From the pages of
Pinedale Roundup
Volume 106, Number 10 - March 5, 2009
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

Residents steamed over frozen pipes

by Stephen Crane

Did you have your bleeders running?

That is the critical question for Pinedale’s Town Hall after a number of residents approached the Town Council in recent weeks with bills in hand for frozen pipes, hoping the town might reimburse some of the expenses.

“Historically, the town has not covered any of these costs,” said Mayor Stephen Smith. “If they don’t have a bleeder running, then it’s certainly the homeowners’ responsibility. But people deserve a fair chance and to be given the benefit of the doubt.”

Coupled with the question of bleeders is the concentrated location of many of these freeze-ups.

While frozen pipes occur every year throughout Pinedale, this year has seen an unusually high number in the southwestern area of town.

“We’ve been in this house for 14 years,” said Julie Belton, who lives on Quartz Avenue. “I’ve definitely seen an increase (on our street). We’ve never had this many freeze-ups ever.”

The Beltons averted a close call earlier this winter, while their neighbors on both sides froze.

In fact, of the 11 houses on Quartz, one of which is not lived in during the winter months, six have frozen up this winter. That’s not counting a number of other freeze-ups on Shanley and Jade, streets adjacent to Quartz.

This fact has many of the residents in that area attributing the frozen pipes to the recent construction that took place last summer and into late fall as part of the town’s Phase III Water and Sewer Rehabilitation Project.

“I’ve worked construction for quite a few years, and we’ve worked late fall,” said Orville Parker, who has lived on Quartz for 15 years and froze this year for the first time. “And it’s true. You get in a hurry, and in spring time, you’ll have to dig it all up again.”

As part of construction in that area, trenches and holes were dug throughout the street, as crews worked on rehabilitating the sewer lines. After the sewer lines were replaced, the road was grated and ultimately paved, hoping to facilitate the conveyance of water down town streets.

“The construction on those streets changed the final ground elevation a couple inches one way or the other,” said Brian Gray, of WLC, the engineering firm in charge of the project in that area. “It dropped in some places. Some places it went up.”

The actual elevation change has been a point of contention, with some residents claiming drops of a foot or more. WLC contends it was between two and six inches.

One thing is certain, however. The general consensus from the contractors that were hired by residents to thaw out the pipes is that the freeze-ups have been occurring under the new roadway, between the curb and the existing water main.

According to town code, the homeowner is responsible for any water lines that run from the house to the main, including under the street. And quite often, this is where frozen pipes have historically occurred.

“That is usually the scenario, because the frost drives down so much deeper where it’s getting driven on,” said Ron Hanson, supervisor for Pinedale’s Public Works.

A weather component may also be contributing to this year’s freeze-ups.

“In defense, this has been the ideal freeze-up weather,” said Belton, who has a large bleeder valve and also keeps a toilet running to prevent freezing.

“There’s another phenomenon too,” said Town Engineer Eugene Ninnie. “During warmer spells, the warm actually thaws out the upper part of the ground, and it allows more water into the ground.

“Then, at night when it freezes, it drives the frost even deeper.”

It’s little consolation to residents who were forced from their homes for days at a time this winter.

“We were frozen for like a week,” said Shanda Strickland, who lives on Quartz. “It was all of Christmas.”

The Stricklands moved into the house last fall and were told the house had no prior issues with frozen pipes, both by the owners and the Realtor.

“We were told that we didn’t need anything on, unless we were going to leave the house for awhile,” said Strickland.

For Parker, the frozen pipes came as a complete surprise as well.

“I leave for work pretty early in the morning,” said Parker. “At a quarter to two, I took a shower. And at six, my wife calls and says the pipes froze up.”

Parker, along with other residents in the area, are hoping that Pinedale’s Town Council will investigate the problem more thoroughly and reimburse some of the expenses that residents have accrued, which range from $600 to over $4,000, due to multiple contractors and the digging required.

“If homeowners are running their bleeders, the town should take responsibility,” said Shane Deal, whose pipes froze in early February.

That is, indeed, the question that the Town Council will contemplate when deciding what to do with the bills they have received from residents.

“Personally, I feel the only reason that they’re froze up is because they didn’t have their bleeders running,” said Hanson.

Some residents still insist their bleeders were running, but it’s a claim that’s difficult to verify.

At the Town Council meeting next Monday evening, the council will discuss the issue, hoping to resolve the residents’ complaints.

“Basically, it’s a tough area to live in,” said Ninnie, who is pushing to reinsulate the water lines in the future. “That’s why I say, if you start to control the drainage in this town, you may see a lot of this go away.

“The idea is to eliminate all this.”

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