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Two Middlebury water mains break, traffic is snarled

MIDDLEBURY — A messy water main break in Court Square in downtown Middlebury on Monday morning that snarled traffic for much of the day was followed on Wednesday by a second water main break just a block away that caused a second, though smaller, bottleneck for cars and trucks.
“It certainly is unusual to have two so close together,” said Middlebury Town Manager Kathleen Ramsey, of the water main breaks.
Although fewer vehicles were inconvenienced by the Wednesday break, it proved to be more troublesome for everyone else it affected. While the first water main was repaired in one long day, the second one would not be fixed until Thursday at the earliest, leaving a handful of water customers high and dry for more than a day.
Public Works staff were on the scene both days — turning off the water, digging up the roads, patching the broken pipes and filling the holes back in again.
The broken water pipes — the one in Court Square was 8 inches in diameter, the one under Washington Street was 12 inches — cut water service to fewer than 20 customers, but the cost of the repairs was mounting as of Wednesday night.
It started sometime early Monday morning when a cast iron pipe broke, apparently from age, at the edge where the grassy area meets the roadway near the southeast corner of Court Square. An off-duty Road Department employee happened by at about 6:30 a.m., noticed the water cascading down the street between the square and the Painter House and called Middlebury police to get the road closed.
Northbound traffic was allowed to proceed, as usual, counterclockwise around the square in front of the Middlebury Inn. But vehicles headed south were allowed to rim the west side of the square but could not continue past the side and front of Painter House. Some cars and trucks headed down Main Street and then took Cross Street back to Court Street and continued on their journeys; others headed south on South Pleasant Street and joined Cross Street.
Neither of these alternate routes could handle the volume of traffic, and consequently cars and trucks backed up a long way on South and North Pleasant streets. Court Street/Court Square/North Pleasant Street is Route 7, which is a major north-south highway in western Vermont.
When authorities got out to direct traffic at the key intersections it eased the situation some.
In addition to the traffic woes, water was cut off to a portion of Court Street south of Court Square — Middlebury Director of Operations Dan Werner said it was fewer than half a dozen customers. Fortunately, some of the buildings on the east side of that street are served by a different water main. Several properties on the west side of Court Street, including the Dunkin Donuts, were completely without water after the main was shut off around 7 a.m. Water service was restored by 5 p.m.
Seven workers from the Middlebury Road and Water departments worked 14 hours to repair the main and the roadway — all of them coming out on a holiday (Columbus Day). They had to dig several feet under the asphalt and concrete to get to the pipe and then cut out the broken segment — which was two-and-a-half to three feet long — and replace 10 linear feet of pipe. They also had to fix some electrical conduit.
The water from the leak flowed down the hill and “water got between the concrete and asphalt and (the asphalt) floated up,” Werner explained in a Tuesday interview. Since the top layer was ruined, town workers ground up the roadway on the south side of Court Square to make it ready for paving. Werner on Tuesday thought the repaving would take place within a couple weeks and cost a few thousand dollars.
The cost of the repaving of the road (which was repaved five years ago after another water main break) would be picked up by municipal water customers, Werner said.
Werner had a positive assessment of the town employees who did the repairs.
“They all did a good job, they were very conscientious,” he said. “They were all working on a holiday.”
Traffic returned to normal on Tuesday.
But that proved to be a brief respite.
Just before dawn on Wednesday water came seeping from under Washington Street only a few paces west of Court Square. A 12-inch main made of ductal iron had sprung a leak, sending water bubbling up under the asphalt and down the street east to Green Peppers restaurant on the corner of Buttolph Drive. Muddy water also flowed from next to the Vermont Federal Credit Union down the street and into the parking lot of the Shaw’s supermarket.
About 10 or 12 businesses did not have access to tap water on Wednesday.
The Washington Street main did not break because of age, a town worker on the site speculated, but because the acidic soil there corroded it. The 12-inch main did connect to the older 8-inch main, but there was no indication that the two breaks were anything more than a coincidence.
Authorities closed off Washington Street at Court Square to the entrance of the Middlebury Natural Foods Co-op. Officials at the co-op took down traffic barriers at the back of their parking lot to allow cars to enter and exit via the Addison County Regional Planning building parking lot off Seminary Street.
Again it was a long day for the workers from the Road and Water departments. They dug down to the problem pipe, which this time was at least 10 feet down. A pedestrian on Wednesday evening observeda piece of asphalt near the 15-foot long hole in Washington Street that clearly was cracked and falling in as a sinkhole had opened up under it.
One worker on site said town employees patched the pipe but when they turned on the water pressure it was clear that there was another leak that had to be repaired. After the second hole was fixed, workers again restarted the flow of water into the 12-inch main and they noticed that water pressure would not hold. They understood that to mean there was at least one more leak further down the line, possibly more.
At a little past 8 p.m. on Wednesday town workers consulted with Werner and determined that the pipe may be compromised in several more spots and decided it was best to wait until heavy equipment could be moved in in the morning to further excavate. As a result, they alerted the 10 or 12 businesses that had lost water service on Wednesday that the water would not be turned on Thursday morning. It was hoped that the water could be restored sometime on Thursday, but a town employee said it could take a couple days to fix the pipe.
That also means that Washington Street from the Middlebury Natural Foods Co-op to Court Square will remain closed, and won’t open until sometime Thursday at the earliest.
Middlebury Director of Operations Dan Werner could not be reached for comment late on Wednesday.
Look for updated news on addisonindependent.com.

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