Water line break causes big problem for residents and work crews

A water line break has caused low pressure for residents and long hours for county utility crews working to restore service.

Greg Riegler Photography, www.flickr.com/gfrphoto, CC BY 2.0

Greg Riegler Photography, http://www.flickr.com/gfrphoto, CC BY 2.0

The problem surfaced last week on N.C. Hwy. 109 at Homanit USA Rd. – the entrance to the Unilin plant about two miles north of the Mount Gilead town limit. A patch of broken pavement, leaking water and a safety cone appeared there mid-week. By Friday, part of the highway had been closed as Montgomery County utility workers started repairs.

Montgomery County Director of Public Utilities and Facilities Chris Hildreth said the line is the main transmission artery that conveys water from Mount Gilead to Troy. According to Hildreth, the water interruption was caused by a structural failure of a “tapping sleeve” used to connect the Unilin plant to the county water system – not the county line itself, which is a 24-inch ductile iron pipe.

To facilitate repairs, county crews had to stop the flow of water from a booster station just north of Mount Gilead, causing a loss of service for Unilin, Jordan Lumber and as many as 350 residents in the area.

The county’s water supply comes from the Pee Dee River, starting near the Tillery Hydroelectric Plant west of Mount Gilead and branching out north and east through Montgomery County and into parts of Moore County. With the main line cut off just above Mount Gilead, water reserves in tanks farther along the line have been serving customers during the service outage.

Hildreth said the 100,000-gallon Wadeville tank was quickly drained.

Crews hoped a new sleeve would be in place by early Sunday, but additional trouble made it necessary to complete only a temporary fix so that county tanks could be replenished.

Montgomery County Manager Matthew Woodard said a consultant for the county has completed a preliminary evaluation on the failure and identified substandard methods used by a contractor in connecting the Unilin line to the county water system.

“The connection to Unilin from the Montgomery County line was installed by a contractor when Unilin facilities were constructed,” said Woodard. “The method used was inferior and should have been completed with a proper mechanical joint (tee) and valve assembly.”

Instead, a sleeve, or “band”, connection was used to tap into the line.

“The band connection used was further compromised when the NCDOT widened Hwy. 109,” Woodard continued. “The asphalt was installed over (the county) line and the band connection. The dozens of heavy trucks arriving leaving Unilin every day applied tremendous force to the connection (which was) resting on a rock base.”

Woodard said the immediate need to restore service demands that repairs be done as quickly as possible. That means the pipe will remain under the highway for now, but he said the line will have to be moved in the future.

As of late Sunday, Hildreth and his utility crews had purchased new fittings and assemblies from a manufacturer in South Carolina. With delivery expected Sunday night, workers are planning to remove the temporary fix and proceed with repairs first thing Monday morning.

In addition to impacting industry and homes, the loss of water service is also a concern for local fire departments. County Emergency Services Director Grant Hunsucker is keeping fire chiefs informed of developments, and county-wide tank levels are being monitored.

West Montgomery High School is also affected by the outage. The school and all who have been impacted by the service interruption are under a boil advisory until further notice.

So far, West Middle School has not been affected. Bill Mingin of Montgomery County Schools is staying in touch with the utilities department in case further action is necessary.

The county manager said this line failure has brought to the forefront several issues that have been discussed many times over the past couple of years and need to be addressed.

Woodard said those issues include the inadequate size of the Wadeville tank and the need to connect the system county-wide so water transmission can be diverted and back-fed in order to keep water flowing.

Another proposed system expansion would add a main transmission line from the county tank on Northview Rd. near Mount Gilead to a point north on Hwy. 109.

“In its current design,” Woodard said, “the entire county is vulnerable in the event of a major 109 South break.”

He continued, “We are in no way unique in that we have a single-artery water system. However, this episode strengthens the argument to prioritize the Northview tank to 109 North connection. It will be costly and will not add many new customers, but it will be invaluable in the event of a crisis on the (current) one main transmission line.”

Montgomery County government is providing updated information about the outage and the boil water advisory on its website at http://www.montgomerycountync.com. Those without internet access can call 910-572-1313 for information.

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