Water mains fail in two towns

By Sarah Hinckley and Samuel Shepherd

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SOUTHWEST HARBOR— It was a rough week for municipal water crews on Mount Desert Island. A major water main break cut off water and snarled traffic in Southwest Harbor Wednesday morning. On June 13, water mains in Bar Harbor had four separate breaks, leaving some residents without water for 16 hours.

Allen “Snap” Willey searches for water pipe under the road Wednesday morning using a dowsing rod. ISLANDER PHOTO BY SARAH HINCKLEY

Guests at bed-and-breakfasts on Southwest Harbor’s Main Street had their morning showers interrupted when local crews shut off water due to the broken main. When a few vacationers protested with shampoo still in their hair, the town turned it back on for a bit.

“We let it run so the bed-and-breakfast people could get up,” said Allen “Snap” Willey from the scene outside 379 Main St. around 9:30 a.m. on Wednesday.

Traffic was reduced to one lane just south of downtown while crews worked to fix the problem. Employees of John Goodwin Jr. Construction sliced through pavement and pumped water from the ground to locate the issue. Goodwin’s crew had been on their way to Lamoine to address a water main break there, but Southwest took priority since it was downtown.

“This happens three or four times a year, a 6-inch main breaking,” said Steve Kenney, manager of the Southwest Harbor Water and Sewer District.

Kenney was notified by a member the state highway department, who was in the area doing work, around 8 a.m.

Kenney had just passed the area of the break minutes before, and there was no issue, he said.

With the age of the cast-iron pipes beneath the town, several things could cause such a break, he said. Even a water surge through the system from multiple people using it at the same time can stress old infrastructure.

Willey and Kenney consulted town maps and did some old-fashioned dowsing to try and locate the pipes under the road. Both said there were several areas of that stretch where pipes crossed from one side of the street to the other because of previous projects.

Water was turned off outside of The Kingsleigh Inn Bed and Breakfast on the southern edge of downtown to Lawler Lane, where the entrance to the Harbor View Motel is located.

At press time, the exact location of the break had not been determined.

Bar Harbor main breaks

Four separate water main breaks left residents of Hulls Cove without water for about 16 hours last week.

Maine Department of Transportation and town Public Works officials said the problem was not related to the ongoing road construction on Route 3. But fixing it did require digging up some of the brand-new pavement in the area.

A first break was reported at noon on June 13, and the final repair was complete by 3 a.m. on June 14. Water was restored to the furthest “up-island” sections of the town system at 6 a.m., Bar Harbor Public Works Director Chip Reeves said.

“The first was located near the Chart Room Restaurant [and] the second and third were located between Ocean Avenue and the Acadia National Park entrance,” Reeves said in an email. “The fourth was located on the in-town side of the Bluffs, which turned out to be an old abandoned service.”

While the first leak was being repaired, water department staff noticed a higher flow at the water plant, which tipped them off that there might be more leaks in the system.

Once the leaks were located along Route 3, that portion of the water system was shut down.

“As heartbreaking as it is to dig into a newly reconstructed roadway, this is not an uncommon occurrence due to our aging infrastructure,” Reeves said.

Flaggers were needed to marshal traffic near the Chart Room at rush hour Wednesday.

These mains were not replaced as part of the ongoing Route 3 project happening in the area of Hulls Cove. Reeves said this was not one of the mains selected by the Town Council in 2010 when they planned a $1.7 million replacement of water mains along the Route 3 corridor. It was, however, part of a larger proposed project that was rejected as being too expensive, he said.

The repairs made to the first leak actually sprang the other leaks. Reeves said demand in town was high, which caused the first leak. When that was repaired and the flow got higher, it revealed other weak points in the main.

“As the pressure in the main was reduced, then rebounded, other leaks were caused,” he said.

Reeves thanked the Maine Department of Transportation and Sargent Corporation, contractors for the MDOT project, for assistance with repairs.

Spokesperson Ted Talbot said MDOT personnel stayed overnight to monitor the water lines after road materials were placed back on top of them.

They also filled and paved the holes in the new pavement before work resumed the next day, he said.

Terri Needham, owner of the Chart Room, said the restaurant had to close for dinner on Wednesday but reopened normally on Thursday.

Birch Bay Retirement Village, just off of the Crooked Road near the intersection with Route 3, was without water from noon until 4 a.m., according to Executive Director Peter Sullivan. There were no major side effects from the outage, besides a backlog of dishes and laundry.

“A few toilets overflowed due to the bump in water pressure on return, but we experienced no damage,” Sullivan said. “We proceeded through the outage with minimal impact thanks to our incredible and dedicated staff.”

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