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Ogdensburg Department of Works blames cold for water main repair delays

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OGDENSBURG — The cold weather is taking a toll on the city Department of Public Works’s efforts to fix water line breaks, leading to longer repair times as crews work cautiously to avoid breaking their equipment in the process.

Crews repaired a leak on Hamilton Street on Monday afternoon in front of St. Mary’s Cathedral, 415 Hamilton St., which had been flowing for nearly a week.

DPW Supervisor Gregg E. Harland said the source of the Hamilton Street leak had been difficult to find in a maze of abandoned water lines and active gas lines in the area. The problem eventually was located in an inactive water line that formerly supplied a house that is no longer on the street. Mr. Harland said DPW crews simply cut the line off from the rest of the system.

But the process of finding that leak was plagued by more than just location.

DPW crews had to contend with a second water leak on Hamilton Street, originally discovered Jan. 21, on Friday, and on Saturday night, another break at the intersection of Hasbrouck and Jay streets.

Mr. Harland said the Hasbrouck Street break was an easy fix, but the breaks on Hamilton Street were much more stubborn, with crews being forced to replace a valve on Hamilton Street at the intersection with Knox Street.

Over the course of the last week, Mr. Harland said, temperatures, which remained well below zero, meant that crews needed to take their time.

Mr. Harland said work on the roughly 150-year-old system was delayed as a vacuum truck and steam generator, which is used to thaw the ground, froze several times, requiring lengthy trips back to the garage to warm up.

If there is a silver lining to the conditions that slowed repair work to a crawl, it’s that this year’s bitter cold, which has come in short bursts, has not allowed the frost to reach 5 feet down to the water lines.

“We’ve had cold years before where the frost was actually right down around the water main,” Mr. Harland said. “It’s not like that now.”

He said the frost around the Hamilton Street leak has reached down only about a foot.

He said frost isn’t always a hindrance when crews are trying to fix a break. Surface-level frost can sometimes prevent a leak from breaching the ground, holding off the need for a repair until the weather is warmer.

Throughout the repair work on Hamilton Street, Mr. Harland said, water to homes was never shut off.

“You don’t want anyone to go without water because then you don’t have fire protection,” Mr. Harland said. “If you don’t fix the thing, you’re going to get another one.”

The city will have a rough estimate of how much the Hamilton Street leak will cost in the coming weeks, but Mr. Harland said the primary cost drivers were replacement parts, each with a price tag of several hundred dollars, fuel and overtime.

In the spring the city also will have to pave Hamilton Street where DPW had to dig, adding to the final cost, Mr. Harland said.

He said an average year will see 12 to 15 water main breaks. There have been four since December.

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