Regarding frozen water lines on 72nd St. - we have only this to say, "we told you so!"
The Niagara Falls Reporter wrote more than a year ago, in our Feb 11, 2014 story, "Frozen Water-Gate... Icy Deception," after reporting that 10 homes on the 500 block of 72nd St., wound up with frozen water lines, that the main water line under the road will have to have to be replaced.
We reported last year that a blunder had been made by the Dyster administration and the Niagara Falls Water Board when they decided not to replace the 70-year old main water line on the two block stretch of 72nd between Stephenson to Niagara Falls Blvd.
Last weekend - when the number of homes with frozen pipes went up to 15, Mayor Paul Dyster told WGRZ, "We need to dig under the street, find out what's happening and make certain that we do the right thing by these people."
He said, "It leads us now to having to start digging into the street after the weather thaws here to try and figure out what exactly is happening underneath that section of 72nd Street."
He is a year late. Worse, we believe he is not being candid when he tells WGRZ he doesn't know what's causing the problem.
We submit Dyster knows full well.
A Year Has Passed and No Solution
In February, 2014, after a period of unusually cold weather, after the 10 homes on 72nd St. were without water, Mayor Dyster told the press that "Having water lines freeze during a cold winter is not at all an unusual situation,"
Dyster told The Buffalo News that "there were about 'six theories' about what may have happened and it would be premature to discuss the possibilities."
He said in 2014 that the city will conduct an investigation, adding, "There are a number of theories that have been advanced, but, again, I'm trying not to speculate on what that could be about until we look at it in some great detail."
Taking action, Dyster declared a "limited state of emergency," spent $47,153 of taxpayer money to hire Gross PHC to thaw out the water lines so people could have water again - unless their pipes were broken - which many were.
"We don't know what it is, but we believe there is a systemic cause for this," Dyster said to local media and added he would hire an outside consulting engineer to study why this one block had frozen water lines.
For residents with broken pipes, Dyster and the Niagara Falls Water Board were quick to disavow any responsibility. After they thawed the pipes. they told residents to hire a plumber and fix your broken lines yourself.
So that's what the residents did.
When we first heard about the problem we went to 72nd and within minutes we knew something was fishy.
The plumbers hired by the city to thaw out the frozen pipes (but not to fix the broken ones) showed us the holes they dug to expose pipes to thawing.
To our surprise we found that water lines were less than two feet under the surface. Naturally they will freeze and the only possible reason they were that shallow was because the main line under the street was shallow and the lateral lines to people's homes - which had frozen - had to be shallow to hook up with the main line.
We investigated further and found out in a matter of hours the information that Dyster proposed to pay an outside consultant to find out:
We Called the Contractors
They laid the blame on the city
In 2010, the Dyster administration designed and performed a $2.6 million full-depth road reconstruction of 72nd Street between Buffalo Avenue and Niagara Falls Blvd.
Accadia Site Contracting won the bid for the project.
Engineering design records show only half the street - from Buffalo Ave. to Stephenson St.- got new water lines. The other half, from Stephenson to Niagara Falls Blvd, did not get new water lines. The design called for keeping the 70-year old main water line on that section of the road.
We noted that the section that did not get new water lines was exactly where the people's water lines froze.
We noted that plans showed the main water line to be as shallow as two feet under the street. We knew in a climate like ours, water lines must be buried below the freeze line - more than 48-52 inches below ground.
How could the city, the Water Board and the contractor make such a mistake?
We called Accadia Site Contracting's president and the project manager for the 72nd St job.
Here is what we learned: The 72nd St road reconstruction was necessitated by the road sinking and deteriorating over time.
Underneath the road there was hardly any stone or gravel - which holds up a road.
When they built the road in the first half of the 20th century they laid asphalt over soil and laid the water main just under the road, insulating it by packing clay around the water line.
"The problem is we had to put the stone in, in order to support the roadway, which was why the road was in the condition it was in before, because of the improper foundation beneath it," said Anthony Mallone, a licensed engineer, and project manager for the job.
Why did putting in stone cause a problem?
Paul Marinaccio, president of Accadia, said, "A lot of times when we do these jobs, the dirt has been around the water lines for 30, 40, 50, 100 years. It keeps everything tight. Now we come digging along and take the pressure of the dirt away and the water line starts leaking because they're deteriorated."
What should have been done?
"Install a new water line, excavate it down to a depth that would have been below the freeze line," Mallone said.
Why didn't you do that?
"Because the Water Board had to come up with the money," answered Mallone.
"When we did the job, we knew the water line wasn't deep enough, plus it was leaking all over the place," Marinaccio added. "I sent the city a letter saying that they should replace the water line and they said the Water Board would not approve the money. So when we dug, we had to dig on each side of the water line because the water line wasn't deep enough. We had to be careful when we rolled the stone, because it probably would have broken."
You told them the water line would cause a problem?
"Oh! It was leaking," Marinaccio said. "It was leaking all over the place. I don't remember how much extra they paid me to keep patching it because it was leaking."
What is the solution now to prevent the homes from having frozen pipes?
"You need to redo the water line, re-cut the road," Mallone said. "It's more of an issue now, to do all the inter-connects, run the new services to the main deck. Now you'll be replacing a portion of the sidewalk. It's going to be very costly. It might be a little more than $500,000 to do it right and if the job is redone it will leave patch marks on the new road."
How much money would it have cost if you replaced the water line when you had the road opened up?
"About 300,000" Mallone said.
We reported this information in the Reporter and winter passed. From an official standpoint, nothing was done.
Some of the residents agreed with the theory that the road work was the start of their problems.
Antonette Venute, 88, told the Niagara Gazette, "The water pipes never froze before, including the Blizzard of '77." Her frozen pipes cost her $1000 to repair.
Wayne and Linda Edwards told WKBW that last year was the first time their pipes had ever frozen in the more than 45 years they've lived in their home. They don't think it's a coincidence that the city had recently completed a major road renovation on their street that they believe screwed up the water lines.
After last year's freeze, which cost him $1,200 to replace his water line, Joseph Hauser and a dozen neighbors attended a Water Board meeting in Sept.
When they arrived they were handed a letter signed by Water Board Chairman Ted Janese that read in part, "The Niagara Falls Water Board and the city of Niagara Falls are very sensitive to this issue that some residents have experienced during excessively colds winters. To help identify a solution to this problem, the city of Niagara Falls has commissioned an engineering report for which we hope to learn the findings of in the near future."
During the public comment period at that meeting, Hauser asked a question. A Water Board official politely explained that board members "don't answer questions" during the public comment period.
Several days later, residents got a letter from the Water Board telling them what the Water Board was going to do to fix their problem. They would offer residents a chance to sign up for the Water Board's Frozen Water Service Assistance Program.
Better known as the "drip plan", the program permits residents who keep a slight stream of water constantly running in their home, to get approximately a $40 discount on their water bill for the winter.
But it was curious. The Water Board chairman wrote (in September) that "the city of Niagara Falls has commissioned an engineering report for which we hope to learn the findings of in the near future."
Oddly, as the Reporter later learned, Dyster had received that report five months earlier, in April.
Dyster Won't Show the Report
In December, WGRZ reported that residents are still "waiting for the release of an engineering consultant's study ordered by the city."
In January, 2015, WKBW reported "Eyewitness News asked to see that report a full nine months (after he received it) but the mayor declined to share it with us, saying he wanted to give the water board a heads up first."
In January, 2015, Dyster, while refusing to show the report, explained to WGRZ that the "engineering study found no specific cause other than extreme frigid weather for last winter's frozen water pipe problems for some city residents."
The WGRZ reporter pressed him, "Let's face it. There's a lot of theories out there saying the water pipes weren't buried deep enough or they didn't use the proper material. What do you think about that?"
Dyster said, "There was no single cause that was found where you could say...A-Ha...here's something that was done wrong. What the consultant engineers came back and told us was that there was no single factor that you can say was responsible for the frozen water services aside from the fact that we had an extended period of record cold."
When WGRZ asked when he would release the report, Dyster said he "may soon release elements of that engineering study."
Elements? Why not the whole report?
What was more significant was that, as of January, 2015, Dyster said, that's that. Case closed.
It was cold weather and nothing else.
No mistakes. No blunders, according to the report he would not show.
The City's Solution
And Dyster's solution?
Residents can let their water trickle all winter and the Water Board will take $40 off their bill. Learn to live through winters with dripping water.
Cheryl Dutton told WIVB last week that her family leaves their basement faucet running all winter long.
"We can't sell our house," Cheryl said. "What are we going to tell them they have to keep the water running all winter? We can't sell it if we wanted to."
Amy Wakefield told the Gazette, she and her husband take half days at work alternately to make sure running faucets with their thin stream of water keep dripping and do not freeze.
Over the weekend Water Authority crews were out at Wayne Edward's house connecting a hose from his neighbors house so he can have running water.
As for the $40 discount on the bill, Edwards told WIVB, "They said run your water until the better weather comes along in April or May so we did. It cost us $600, the water bill."
Angelle Phillips told the Gazette, "The city says 'talk to the water board,' the water board says 'it's our problem,' and we never get an answer. We don't even know who to ask anymore."
No More Studies Needed
So what is the solution?
Like Mallone of Accadia said, "You need to redo the water line, excavate it down to a depth below the freeze line. Re-cut the road. Do all the inter-connects, run the new services to the main deck."
Up until now the Water Board and the Dyster administration told residents it's the cold weather, and not the city's fault.
In a show of stunning non transparency, Dyster refused to share the study which was undertaken to find out the cause of the problem which Dyster claims states the frozen pipes are solely caused by cold weather.
Last weekend he says he is going to spend more taxpayer money with outside consultants to further study the cause of the problem.
According to WGRZ, "Mayor Dyster says city hired engineers and crews will examine the bedrock and soil composition beneath the street as part of their search for a solution."
We recommend that before he spends another dime - Dyster should release the original study.
The media should press him on that.
The council should insist.
For our part, we filed a FOIL request for a copy of the 2014 report, paid by taxpayers, that allegedly says the whole problem is cold weather and not the stupid blunders of the Dyster administration.
Frankly we know better.
We knew better in 2014.
And at that time, we told you so!
|To fix the problem, the recently paved road will have to be dug up.