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Mid-winter thaw sparks water main breaks

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Mid-winter thaws are usually a welcome respite, especially to those weary of icy sidewalks, snowed-in driveways and layered clothing.

But to the Ogdensburg Public Works Department, the traditional, annual drop in temperatures in January and February is hardly a welcome time.

It means that the earth is at it again, thawing and then freezing again with frost settling in three to five feet down, shifting subtly enough to avoid the Ritcher scale.

But the city’s mostly century-old grid of water mains - 80 miles of them - don’t get off so easily.

Too much movement and the old pipes tend to break, causing rushing water to saturate the ground and, eventually, break through the street surface to create a pool.

It is called a water main break and, according to Public Works Director Kit W. Smith, there have been seven of them in the last month, the most recent a pair of them on Monday on Paterson and North Rosseel streets.

Seven breaks in a month is a high number, Mr. Smith noted, but the reason for the calls puts it in perspective.

“Everything we do is pretty much weather-driven,” he said.

Water main breaks, Mr. Smith said, are usually caused by friction between the underground soil and external pipe corrosion. In recent years, the department has been able to reduce water main breaks by repairing or replacing corroded mains with concrete-lined iron pipe.

The average water main break costs the public works department about $4,000 in labor, parts and materials to repair.

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