2014-03-12 / Front Page

Residents’ frozen water pipes will no longer be thawed by city

Insurance company warns about dangers

MANISTIQUE – Frozen water pipes, the result of an extremely cold winter, have been creating problems for the city of Manistique and some of its residents. The issue, along with some possible solutions, was discussed during Monday’s meeting of the Manistique City Council.

During the public comment portion of the meeting, Reverend Steve Jones of the Manistique Harbor Pentecostal Church of God, located on Arbutus Ave., questioned what the city was planning to do to help those with frozen water lines, including the church.

According to City Manager Sheila Aldrich, members of the city’s water department and department of public works have been doing what they could for those residents, estimated to be around 50 this season. In fact, up until Monday, the city would send workers and a hired contractor to use a welder in an attempt to thaw pipes.

“There are a lot of other communities that are feeling the effects of the frozen water lines like we are,” Aldrich said.

She added that most of the frozen water pipes are from the curb stop to the homeowner’s house, which is not the city’s responsibility. Despite this fact, the city was still responding to calls about frozen pipes. While on these calls, Aldrich said workers ran into trouble with the heat from the welder going elsewhere – primarily to other houses’ electrical boxes.

“We had a couple of incidences where we caught electrical boxes on fire,” she said. “Our insurance company spoke with us this morning and they said ‘you can’t do it anymore’ … ‘you can’t take the chance with people’s homes and with their lives’.”

Aldrich said the electrical fires and near fires were happening up to three houses away.

Corey Barr, Manistique’s water/ wastewater superintendent, explained that while thawing a line at a home this weekend, an adjacent trailer “smoked up” badly. He said that the elderly man living in this trailer may have been harmed had his home health nurse not been present.

“Along with what the insurance company is telling us, I just don’t think that we can do this anymore,” he said. “Had their (homeowners’) smoke alarms not went off, we might have had a different outcome.”

Barr said that so far this season, around 8 out of 10 of the freeze ups have been on the homeowner’s side. He added that although the city has updated infrastructure around the city, problems still exist.

“We have spent a lot of money to eliminate the deficiencies in the system,” Barr said. “The very few … are in areas that we haven’t had construction since the 80s; we’re aware of them deficiencies.”

Aldrich noted that the city is aware of the deficiencies, mostly where water pipes are shallow and likely to freeze, and contact the homeowners each year and allow them to do “let runs”. A let run is a procedure in which a homeowner continuously runs water to prevent the pipes from freezing. The city covers the cost of the water used.

These areas will be updated as soon as funds become available, Aldrich added.

According to Barr, frost this year is especially bad, measuring up to 90 inches down in some areas. He explained that new infrastructure is mostly safe from freezing, as the tops of those water pipes are at a minimum of 7 feet below the ground.

Barr said the problem areas include Potter Street, which has “basically a large service line” and has been frozen for about four weeks; the 300 block of North 1st Street; and 6th, 7th and 8th street. Homes in these areas have either been on let run orders or have been using hoses attached from home to home in order to obtain water.

To check whether it is the city’s pipe or the homeowner’s pipe that is frozen, Barr said the city checks the nearest shut off valve. If the valve works properly, this is an indication that the problem lies with the homeowner’s pipe.

Councilperson Dan Evonich questioned whether the city could use a machine rented out by local businesses instead of the welder. Barr answered that these machines are too much like the welder, and that a steaming device would be recommended. He noted that these devices are available from local plumbers, but that they are limited in effectiveness.

Barr also noted that the city has been keeping track of who they have thawed thus far, and these residents can expect a bill in the mail.

“If we feel that it’s our deficiency … then they don’t get a bill for it,” he said.

While Barr said that residents were notified they would be charged for the service, members of the audience audibly disagreed with this statement.

Councilperson Elizabeth Hill noted that paying a plumber or paying the city would be comparable enough, then, that homeowners could opt for that option seeing as the city can no longer provide the welding thaws. She also questioned whether the city would be able to take advantage of emergency funds from the federal government, and if that would be a good option for homeowners.

“Looking at hurricanes, etc., which is essentially the same emergency, is that expenses to homeowners … they give you low-cost loans,” she said.

Aldrich said the city could look into the funds and possibly reimburse residents who required thawing if it is allowable.

Barr explained that Harbor church was one of the first places to experience a frozen pipe, and that while thawing the pipe, the city caused damage to an electrical box. He said this has been a recurring phenomenon mostly because the National Electric Code allows homeowners and business owners to ground to the water pipes.

“Electricity is just like water – it’s going to flow to the path of least resistance,” he said. “So if you have a frozen pipe, but it’s easier to go to this house, because it’s not frozen, that’s where it’s going to go.”

Public Safety Director Ken Golat said the fire department has responded to four calls because of the city’s weld-thawing technique, and that eight to ten other near-fire incidents were controlled by DPW. He added that at least four of the incidents affected houses other than the one being thawed, including homes across the street.

“It can’t continue, it simply can’t,” Golat said.

Council members agreed that the city should continue to look into alternative options to thaw frozen pipes, including a “soil blanket”.

“I know everybody’s here trying to beat their head, trying to figure something out, but we got to keep doing it, because people can’t afford to pay plumbers a bunch,” he said. “We need to figure something out.”

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