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City workers busy thawing frozen pipes

Greg Hermansen, a water operator with the City of New Richmond, works to heat an underground water pipe at the corner of South Knowles Avenue and West Fourth Street just outside Royal Credit Union on Monday, Feb. 17. Municipal workers have been putting in long hours to unfreeze pipes throughout the city over the past few weeks. (Photo by Micheal Foley)

You can tell it’s a rough winter when underground water and sewer pipes freeze solid.

Most water and sewer pipes in the City of New Richmond lay 7 to 8 feet underground, according to Public Works Director Jeremiah Wendt, and this winter the frost is reaching those depths as well.

A few weeks ago, pipes beneath homes and businesses in the City of New Richmond began to freeze up.

“It hasn’t happened to this degree in years,” said City Administrator Mike Darrow. “This has been pretty severe.”

City workers have been extremely busy thawing pipes over the past three weeks.

“We have had over 40 freeze-ups on properties, including some businesses,” Darrow said.

Darrow said typically freeze-ups have lasted several hours to a day-and-a-half. In some cases workers have been unable to thaw the pipes after multiple days.

Water Superintendent Bob Meyer said his crews have been working 13-hour days. In addition to thawing the pipes, city workers have been delivering bottled water to residents and helping them find places to shower.

“The first thing I want to say is how impressed I am with our staff,” Darrow said during an emergency meeting of the Utility Commission on Monday, Feb. 17. “Everybody is chipping in during these difficult conditions. That’s what makes this job great. It’s because I’m surrounded by amazingly talented people.”

During the meeting, the commission approved the purchase of a generator to aid in the efforts along with the ongoing use of consultants and contractors to continue pipe-thawing efforts.

As a preventative measure, the city began asking specific residents to run their water continuously to alleviate the issue.

On Friday, Feb. 14, the city took the additional step of asking all residents and businesses to run cold water — preferably in a second-floor bathtub — for five minutes nightly. The city instructed residents to check the temperature of the water and to contact the Utility Office if it was below 40 degrees.

Water departments in the Village of Somerset and the Village of Hammond are in the same boat. Both villages are asking residents and businesses to leave a faucet running 24 hours with a stream the diameter of a pencil.

Hammond’s public notice included the following reason for pipe freeze-ups:

“The main reason for freezing is the shallowness of the water service pipe coming to your building from the street, and/or lack of snow for insulation.”

All three municipalities ensure that water bills would be adjusted so residents don’t have to pay for the additional water needed for the preventative faucet running.

Even though air temperatures are expected to rise to above freezing this week, Darrow says issues are likely to continue until after the ground thaws out.

Micheal Foley
Micheal Foley worked at RiverTown Multimedia from July 2013 to June 2015 as editor at the New Richmond News. 
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