ST. ALBANS — Two water main breaks in St. Albans City Tuesday morning were just some of the many winter woes public works departments are experiencing this year.

One break has been repaired while another is expected to be fully fixed by this afternoon. A boil water order, sent out yesterday morning, is still in effect for all users of St. Albans City water.

Residents can use water to wash with, but must boil it before drinking or using for cooking.

The breaks, which occurred around 8 a.m. yesterday, were on Barlow Street near the Stevens Brook bridge and at the intersection of Thorpe Avenue and Upper Welden Street. Residents of those streets as well as Quintin Court, Beverly Court, Smith Street and Driscoll Drive, lost use of water.

According to City of St. Albans Public Works Director Allen Robtoy, about 150 to 200 houses were affected.

“It was a substantial number of people,” he said by phone this morning.

In addition to residential houses, Northwestern Medical Center lost most of its water pressure due to the breaks, causing it to activate its Incident Command emergency system.

“We’re just doing our best to conserve water,” NMC community relations specialist Kate Laddison said yesterday. “We have good back-up systems,” she added, indicating that necessary medical care was uninterrupted.

All non-essential staff was sent home yesterday and today, an emergency preparedness team was deployed, and the boil order was followed.

By this morning, the hospital was seeing the return of water pressure, said Laddison.

“I think we are heading in the right direction,” she said. While NMC is still operating with limited services as of press time, the emergency management team was beginning to plan for the reintroduction of water use throughout the day.

City residents are also seeing the return of their water, according to a press release sent by St. Albans Police Department Chief Gary Taylor.

“As of 7 a.m. this morning water has been restored to all residents except those on the east side of Thorpe Avenue,” Taylor wrote.

Water samples have been sent to a Vermont Department of Health laboratory in Burlington for tests. The results are expected by tomorrow morning, at which point Robtoy said the boil order could be lifted.

“{That’s] assuming we get favorable results, which should be sometime between 10 and noon tomorrow,” he said.

In the meantime, public works department employees are continuing to repair the second break, which is expected to be fixed by noontime today. The section of Upper Welden Street to Thorpe Avenue is closed to through traffic in order to allow for the work to be done.

“They were major breaks,” said Robtoy, who added that it was past midnight when the first of them was repaired early this morning.

“It was probably as tough a leak as I’ve seen in 38 years of being here,” he said.

Tough winter

Yesterday’s two breaks were the latest in a series this winter.

 

“Since around the first of January we’ve had 10 to 12 leaks,” said Robtoy. Most of those leaks were main line breaks which, he added, are “not easy to deal with.”

 

In St. Albans City, parts of the waterline – the interior sections – are more than 100 years old.

 

“It’s unique to Vermont,” Robtoy said. “Burlington faces the same issues as we do.”

 

Water breaks are just part of the challenges this winter has put to public works departments. Snow storm after snow storm as well as extreme cold – East Berkshire hit minus 37 degrees Monday night – have kept plow drivers, salt trucks and waterline repairmen busy.

 

“We’re most likely like most other departments – over budget on winter maintenance,” said Robtoy. He estimated that he’s already used 75 or 80 percent of the city’s winter maintenance budget.

 

Yesterday’s water line breaks, for example, were estimated by Robtoy to cost more than $20,000.

 

“You have to tighten up in other areas,” he said. “It’s certainly been a tough winter.”

 

St. Albans Town has been tightening up, too.

 

“Salt-wise, we’ve used up all our budget,” said St. Albans Town Department of Public Works Director Steve Beauregard. “We’re actually over budget.”

 

Beauregard added that this was the first year the DPW has been over salt-budget, and in all but critical areas, it’s had to stop salting on extremely cold days and instead wait until the thermometer gets to 15 degrees or above.

 

“We do have enough to get by,” said Beauregard. “Thank god the fuel price has gone down.”

 

Town plows have also been on the road every weekend day except one, a fact Beauregard said his employees were becoming sick of.

 

“It’s the worst [winter] in the seven years I’ve been here,” he said.

 

Fortunately, when the going gets tough, people help each other. Beauregard sent town DPW employees up to the city to help with the water main breaks, something that was highly appreciated by Robtoy.

 

“We got a lot of help from the town,” he said. “I got to tell you, those guys were excellent.”

 

Robtoy added that the town DPW also knows the city is there to help whenever its needed.

 

“It’s a two way street,” he said.