12-inch water main bursts in Middlebury

MIDDLEBURY — In the pre-dawn hours this past Friday morning, after a night when temperatures dipped below zero for at least the third time in a week, a large 12-inch water main near Middlebury’s Industrial Park burst.
The leak spilled hundreds of thousands of gallons of water onto Exchange Street and the property across the street from MacIntyre Fuels, and workers had to dig up the busted pipe and replaced it.
And the huge water leak did more than just create a mess and a long day working in the cold for Middlebury Water Department workers. It also prompted at least two major beverage makers on Exchange Street to cease production for the day resulting in a big — and costly — headache for at least one business.
“It caused a lot of inconvenience, and it could mean a few hundred thousand dollars in lost revenues,” said Ben Calvi, general manager at Vermont Cider Co., which operates a 100,000-square-foot production facility on Exchange Street less than a mile from the break in the water main.
Calvi said it will probably not have a major impact on the company’s bottom line ultimately, but workers will have to make it up by working harder later in the month.
And in the short-term it accounts for lost revenue in the six-figure range.
He said Otter Creek Brewing, which has a plant even closer to the break, called Vermont Cider to see if they had access to water because the brewery too was cut off.
It started at 5:30 a.m. when the water level in the reservoir atop Chipman Hill started to go down precipitously. Water department workers started to check the systems for a leak, and Middlebury police alerted them that there was water flowing near Exchange Street.
When workers arrived on the scene of the actual break they found water flowing out of widening chasm at a high rate of speed, with water flowing out from behind the former home of Auto Paint Plus at 260 Exchange St. The roughnecks quickly moved to shut a valve to the 12-inch main that was spouting water but, because of the zero-degree temps, were afraid they were going to break the valve when they encountered some resistance. So they moved up the hill to the reservoir and closed a valve there.
After they got the valve shut the flow was reduced to a trickle.
Calvi said the town asked Vermont Cider to stop production and it did.
The 12-inch main is made of heavy plastic with a fiberglass wrap on it. One worker suspected that the freezing and thawing related to the days of sub-zero temperatures may have worn on the pipe causing it to break. On scene town employee Matt Cram found a piece of plastic from the pipe and a piece of the fiberglass casing near a large pool of water that filled a hole opened up by the break.
Cram climbed into the hole that the gushing water had created just a few hours earlier. He explained that before the valve was shut he found water spout up and coating the bushes and trees with spray that soon froze. The thermometer of one car showed the temperature at 7 degrees three and a half hours after the pipe burst.
At the scene of the break around 8:45 Friday morning, Middlebury Water Division Chief Willie Glen looked on his smartphone at a wireless app that showed water level at the reservoir. The app had alerted him that the reservoir level was dropping at an unusually fast rate, prompting the scramble to find and stop the leak.
The app showed Glen that the reservoir had lost more than 800,000 gallons of water between 5:30 and 8:30 this morning.
Department staff called in a big excavator, Glen said, and planned to dig up the main at the break and cut in new 12-inch pipe. He expected the job to take between 8 and 12 hours.
This was not the first time Water Department staff found themselves scrambling to stop an unanticipated flow of water. Earlier in the week there were smaller breaks in lines on Evergreen Lane and Seymour Street Extension. The town website says the department fixes about 26 main breaks a year.
Calvi said that Vermont Hard Cider losses access to water due to a water main break about twice a year.
“This wasn’t the worst of the water shortages,” he said on Friday.
He hoped that the general public would understand the importance of the water infrastructure for the manufacturing operations on Exchange Street.
“The businesses rely on the utilities in town,” he said. “It hurts us when they go down.”
As a member of the town’s Middlebury Economic Health Committee, Calvi believes that town officials know how important it is to get a long-term fix for the intermittent water stoppages. Selectboard members said in 2017 they hoped to put a bond before voters to fund fixing the Exchange Street problem and some other water infrastructure deficiencies.
The Economic Health Committee in October reported that one of the selectboard’s three top strategic priorities for 2018 was a water bond vote (the other two were the downtown bridge project and the East Middlebury flood resiliency project).
In late 2017 a price for fixing the Exchange Street line was put at $1 million. A member of the town’s Infrastructure Committee late last year mentioned $3 million as the price tag.
   WATER FROM A broken water main trickles across the parking lot at 260 Exchange St. in Middlebury early Friday morning. Town employees dug up the broken 12-inch pipe and hope to have it repaired by day’s end.
Independent photo/John S. McCright

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