Water main bursts

A stretch of Highway 20 in Oak Harbor was closed Wednesday morning as a result of a troublesome water main that burst again.

At approximately 10 a.m., a water main broke near the intersection at SW Eighth Avenue. Once the pipe burst, it began flooding a parking lot. The water eventually seeped underneath the sidewalk and then onto the highway.

“All we saw was the sidewalk lifting up and water flowing out,” said Shane Coe, assistant manager at Les Schwab located across the highway from the leak. He said the water even flowed into the tire center’s parking lot.

Firefighters were busy pumping water out of the parking lot while the highway was closed and traffic diverted onto side streets.

City engineers and Oak Harbor Public Works staff were busy Wednesday gauging the damage to the pipe.

“It’s a little too soon to tell,” said Cathy Rosen, public works director for the city of Oak Harbor, in an interview Wednesday morning. Water was still being drained from the parking lot and workers had to lift up the damaged sidewalk before they could examine the pipe.

With the damage to the pipe, water had to be shut off on the entire block, which hurt businesses.

Pediatric dentist Greg Olson had to cancel appointments with patients because his office didn’t have running water.

“Whenever you get a canceled appointment, it’s frustrating,” Olson said. Working with children it’s often difficult for parents to reschedule appointments, especially when some of his patients are coming from Anacortes and Mount Vernon.

Olson was seeing a patient when the water leak was noticed. One of his employees came into the room and told him to check his car. When he went outside, he found the water had almost reached the car door. The staff and families headed out to the parking lot to move their cars before they were damaged.

Olson spent the remainder of the morning waiting to find out when water service would be restored so he could see patients again.

He said his office has had to close in the past when the same water main broke, but he added the city has worked well to get service restored.

“In the past the city has been pretty responsive,” Olson said, adding the response time Wednesday morning was excellent.

Rosen said water service was temporarily restored later in the day to the building by hooking up a pipe to another meter.

Water mains on that block have burst three times in the past several years. The latest occurrence was in September and the work to fix the resulting damage was recently completed.

“They just finished repairing underneath,” said Bruce Platt, who owns the buildings that house several doctor and dentist offices. When the water main broke in September, the water seeped beneath the building and damaged the ducts and the insulation. Fortunately, the water from Wednesday’s incident stopped on the walkway short of the building.

“I’m concerned about the parking lot,” Platt said as he watched firefighters work to drain the water from his property.

When the water main burst in September, city engineers started investigating what’s been causing leaks in the 50-year-old stretch of pipe. City Engineer Eric Johnston said that when the asbestos-cement pipe fails, it fails catastrophically. He said it looks like the city received a bad batch of pipe.

The same type of pipe is used in the water main from Anacortes, but it hasn’t had the same problems. It’s hard to gauge how long such a pipe can last but it can be between 50 and 100 years, Johnston said.

Because of the water main leaks, the city is going to abandon the water main between SW Sixth and SW Eighth avenues and businesses served by the pipe will get water from other pipes, Johnston said.

He said staff will keep a close eye on how this will affect the city, but he expects that water pressure for businesses and the fire department can be maintained.

Currently, there isn’t any plan to replace the damaged water main.

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