The bill is in for repairing a water line break that affected most Newton city water customers last month, and city leaders were surprised by the cost estimates.
Newton Public Works Director Wilce Martin said a water line break along U.S. 70 early in the morning on Aug. 24 will cost the city about $59,000.
"I would have thought it would be five times that," said Newton Mayor Robert Mullinax, who previously called the water line break a "budget buster."
The total bill for the water line repair project includes, $14,938 in city personnel costs, as well as $15,741 paid to Hickory Sand Company for removal and repair of a piece of 16-inch water line that sustained a linear crack. The city also lost water valued at $14,400 — an estimated 5 million gallons of water — which poured from the cracked pipe while city crews struggled to find a shut-off valve to cut water flow to the area. Martin estimates the city will face a water bill of about $2,670 for water purchased from the city of Hickory. The city also rented a trackhoe for $2,000, and incurred other rental and material costs during the repair effort.
"The cost for the contractor would have been almost double is staff had not rented a trackhoe and done most of the excavation and clearing prior to the contractor arriving on site," Martin said in a memo to city leaders. "We had help from every department in the city. It was a real team effort.
After discovering a dramatic drop in water pressure about 3 a.m. on Aug. 24, Newton city employees spent 19 hours working to locate and repair the broken 16-inch water line, which was buried almost 30 feet deep. While the line depth posed a problem, Martin also said city staff had to ultimately shut down Newton's water plant to stop water flow to the broken pipe.
While city officials have estimated the total cost of the initial line break and ensuing repair, expenses connected to the aging water line along U.S. 70 continue to loom.
City officials estimated that the water line was originally built in the mid-1950s to serve General Electric's Conover facility. Because the line still serves water customers, and the city was unable to locate a shut-off valve for the line, Martin said a new valve is needed near the location of the break.
A valve on a 16-inch water line could cost the city about $20,000.
"If we insert a valve where we intend, we can shut off (water to the line) without shutting off a lot of people beyond that point," Martin said.
The current depth of the line, could also pose problems for the future, he said, adding that a lead joint near the site of the break is still leaking water.
"In the future, we will have to look at replacing about 1,000 feet of line — from the point where we had the excavation, west 1,000 feet," Martin said. "All the joints are lead joints, and (water pressure) could blow out one of those joints in the future. We want to raise the line to a shallower depth so it is easier to work on."
Martin estimated that replacing 1,000 feet of that water line will cost the city about $69,000 if Newton buys materials and contracts labor. The city aims to relay the water line at about five feet deep along U.S. 70, however that project isn't "real high on the agenda," said Newton City Manager Todd Clark.
"Putting the valve in is (high on the agenda). I think at this point it is the staff's discretion whether we want to go in and put a new valve in at a cost of $20,000," said Clark. "If that line blows out again, (with a new valve) we can isolate it right then and there. It is a lot of money, but at the same time, we need to be proactive and be in a position where we can isolate the problem. Getting the valve in there is a priority."