CLEARWATER MAINTENANCE SUPERVISOR John Schmidt indicates areas of pitting and deterioration on a section of watermain pipe that was replaced on Spring Street last summer. In the background are council members (from left) Chris Ritzer, Kris Crandall and Mike Ranum. (Photos by Ken Francis.)

Northeast road project on hold

Staff Writer
Ken Francis
After a two-hour discussion with property owners in the northeast area of the city Monday evening, members of the Clearwater City Council decided they weren’t ready to move ahead with a $2.8 million road project without more information.
About 30 people attended Monday’s public hearing, which could have been the final meeting before the council approved the Northeast Area Street Improvement Project.
Had the council voted to approve the project, there was a resolution prepared for them to sign, giving City Engineer Kevin Bittner the go-ahead to prepare plans and specifications and put the project out for bid.
Instead, the council will wait to hear more information about the condition of the city’s watermain, then decide whether to do the $2.8 project as proposed, a scaled-down version without replacing the watermain, or something else.
The project started out as a street improvement project to replace the 40-year old streets. But it turned into a watermain replacement project after a watermain break last summer on Spring Street revealed a highly corroded water pipe. The city checked two other locations and found at least one had enough corrosion to warrant consideration to replace all the watermains as part of the street project.
At Monday evening’s hearing, a number of property owners facing high assessments spoke about whether there was a need to replace the streets, the watermain, or add curb and gutter and storm sewer.
Resident Kim Nelson said people were already paying too much in taxes and fees to add on another assessment.
“Is it any wonder we can’t get people to buy houses here or put businesses here - $100 a month for water and sewer, which is obscene,” he said. “Property taxes without the road project that are higher than most small towns our size.”
Curb & Gutter
Nelson, although he did agree the condition of the pavement was poor in areas, has been outspoken about the need for curb and gutter and a storm sewer system. He felt it was an unnecessary expense and didn’t really help keep the streets from deteriorating.
“The biggest problem our streets have is they’re 40 years old. They’re paper thin. Problems can’t be attributed to not having a curb over the past 40 years,” he said. “Snowplows have  been bouncing off our curbs and destroying them. What we don’t need is a city full of curbs for the snowplows to wreck.”
Nelson pointed to areas where the city has curb, gutter and storm sewer that hasn’t alleviated flooding problems.
“Two weeks ago when it rained for three or four days, I drove around and the biggest puddle was down on Main Street where one of the sewer grates was plugged up,” he said. “What we don’t need is 50 or 60 more sewer grates to plug. For 150 years Clearwater has done pretty well without curb and gutter and storm sewer.” 
Dan Niehoff of Walnut Street said if the streets were maintained, there wouldn’t be puddles along the edge of the street.
“This all could be alleviated if there was maintenance on the ditches. Scrape that (buildup) away so water can run off the tar into the ditches where it’s supposed to go,” he said. “It’s been 25 or 30 years since these have been maintained. That’s why you have a drainage problem.
Steve Kuebelbeck of Lime Street asked the council to try to find a way to correct a flooding problem on his property that was caused when the adjacent property failed to install drain tile during a construction project. He was concerned that installing curb and gutter would channel even more water onto his property.
That’s something the final plans will attempt to address, said Bittner.
Tom Boone of Prairie Street didn’t want curb and gutter to shrink the width of the streets. He said it would eliminate parking near the historic Masonic Building and scare away potential businesses from renting space in the building.
Mayor Pete Edmonson said the project as proposed would have surmountable curbs, so vehicles could still park along the side of the streets.
Watermain Condition
But the biggest issue was addressed by Steve Houle of Spring Street, who challenged the decision to replace the entire watermain in the Northeast area.
Houle said he saw the section of pipe that was replaced on Spring Street because of a watermain break and felt it was a defect that caused the problem, not deterioration.
“I held that section in my hand. That is not deteriorated at all,” he said. “It doesn’t even seem 30 years old. That had a defective weld with a series of pinholes on the weld.”
Houle said another watermain problem that occurred near the Methodist Church a few years ago was a cracked pipe, not corrosion. He said the city’s maintenance department did a sonar study on the watermain a few years ago and found one small drip.
“Do we have a bad watermain situation in this town? Absolutely not,” he said. “If it was bad, wouldn’t they have heard more leaks? We’ve studied the watermains and they’re not deteriorated.”
Mayor Edmonson asked Engineer Bittner whether the sonar test would indicate corrosion of the pipes.
Bittner said the sonar test doesn’t indicate the condition of the pipes, only leaking.
“There isn’t a technology at this moment that 
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would tell us the type of deterioration that’s going on,” he said. “You can have corrosion pits that aren’t leaking and may not leak for a period of time.” 
Later in the meeting, Maintenance Supervisor John Schmidt brought in the section of pipe. He pointed to the area that had leaked. It was on the weld that Houle had spoken about. But Schmidt pointed out other deep pits on the opposite side of the pipe that were at least half the thickness of the pipe. He said the pipe that was left in the ground was in about the same condition.
“Those will continue to deteriorate and eventually you’ll lose all your thickness,” he said.
Some property owners still weren’t convinced that all the pipes in the area were deteriorating.
Edmonson asked if there was a way to check the condition before moving ahead with the project.
“What sort of inspection - tests - can we run to confirm, deny, or to see what the conditions of our watermains are?” he asked.
“If you want to dig more holes to do a better evaluation, we can spend money and dig more holes,” said Schmidt.
Edmonson said the city wasn’t about to replace the pavement if the old watermains were left in the ground uninspected.
“We acknowledge that it doesn’t make good fiscal, responsible sense to put a new road on top of a watermain that is failing or is in the condition that its in. There’s nothing wrong with us going out and creating more inspections,” he said. “How many inspections should we do? Do we pick our worst pavement spots and go down from there? Mr. Bittner how many would you like to see?”
Bittner said it didn’t matter how many holes were dug if the residents didn’t agree about what constituted a deteriorating pipe. He pointed to the section of pipe.
“The issue I have is, who is the arbiter of whether this watermain is bad. We’ve got a number of people here who say this watermain is perfectly fine. I would strongly disagree. I think Mr. Schmidt would also disagree,” he said. “We can dig up all we want and we can come to the same point and say who is going to decide whether that’s a good watermain or not?”
Councilman Mike Ranum suggested getting an outside firm to inspect the pipe.
“There’s got to be somebody in the field that does this,” he said. “Somebody has got to have some kind of test facility that will tell us what the lifespan is left of that.”
Instead of voting to move ahead with the project, the council directed Administrator Heidi Eckerman and Engineer Bittner to contact testing firms about doing inspections on the watermain.
Edmonson asked to have a list of companies by Monday’s regular council meeting, if possible.


Timothy 'Timm" Crandall

BIG LAKE COBORN’S STAFF have been raising funds for the Big Lake Fire Dept. through brat sales and the sale of buttons. Last week Coborns’s staff posed for a picture by the grill. Front row are Vicki Sabre and Kitty Underwood. Back row is Ashley Pelkey, Amy Fiester, Manager Mitch Utecht, Melissa Schafer, Michelle Galvin, Matt Schacht, Curt Allgood and John Howard. (Photo by Jennifer Edwards).

MEMBERS OF THE Big Lake American Legion flag corps, at attention during Monday’s Memorial Day services. From left, Dennis Gail, Don McVeigh, Don Deuel and Gary Poslusny. (Photos by Gary W. Meyer)

Larry and Lavina Pattee