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Crews worked Monday to fill the hole in the area of N. 2nd Street and Hennepin Avenue in Minneapolis where a water main broke late last week.

Renee Jones Schneider, Star Tribune

A tow truck removed cars that were damaged when water flooded a below-ground Post Office garage in downtown Minneapolis.

Renee Jones Schneider, Star Tribune

Temporary pipes worked as temporary plumping while work continued on the repaired main.

Renee Jones Schneider, Star Tribune

As repairs progress, Mpls. residents newly appreciate their water

  • Article by: STEVE BRANDT
  • Star Tribune
  • January 8, 2013 - 10:47 AM

Pat Wright was catching up on laundry and dishwashing Monday at his downtown Minneapolis condo after 72 dry hours following the largest water main break in recent city history.

Wright has been showering at the gym or at his friends' homes since Thursday's 14-million-gallon spill. It also made him realize -- as measured by the number of times he unthinkingly reached for the faucet -- how much fresh water plays a role in everyday life.

"It'll be nice to be able to set the coffee pot the night before and wake up with a cup of coffee in the morning," said Wright, 29.

On Monday, city officials began to try to tally up the damage from the break at a construction site near downtown, including more than 50 cars at a below-ground Post Office garage, $65,000 worth of lost water, and overtime for repair work and cleanup. The city has assigned an investigator to assemble a claim for the money lost.

On Sunday night, water was restored to Wright's 35-unit building on N. 2nd Street and others in a three-block stretch, but residents weren't allowed to drink the water unless they boiled it first. They were told Monday night that city tests found the water from the temporary line is safe to drink.

"Obviously I can see the construction crew down the street, and I know they're working around the block," Wright said.

Lots of chlorine

Other residents and businesses on the main have been using water carried through temporary pipes while the now-repaired segment is disinfected. City water workers doused that segment with chlorine Monday and were expecting to draw samples by the end of the day. Those results won't be known for 24 hours.

"It's coming down the home stretch," said Marie Asgian, the city's water distribution supervisor. "We're shocking it with plenty of chlorine."

Workers were also filling the crater at the corner of Hennepin Avenue and N. 2nd Street. The next step will be to lay down temporary cold-patch asphalt until warmer weather allows a more permanent layer of paving to applied.

Workers over the weekend bolted two 4-foot-long sleeves over a longer section of new pipe to replace a 13-foot section of pipe.

The water main broke Thursday in an accident city officials blame on a contractor excavating for a sewer connection for a nearby apartment-retail development, disrupting downtown commerce and traffic, and sending many workers home early. The section of pipe broken by a backhoe dated to the 1890s, but it's still high-quality cast iron, Asgian said.

City Engineer Steve Kotke said Monday that he expects one southbound lane on Hennepin to reopen in time for Tuesday's rush hour. Remaining southbound lanes won't be opened until they get the asphalt.

Postal spokesman Pete Nowacki said that 33 cars used by postal administrators and 20 private cars were inundated in the garage at the downtown post office, and will presumably be written off as total losses. The below-ground levels of the garage flooded as water surged out of the maimed pipe a block away.

Could have been worse

Kotke said that as disruptive as the break was, the topography of the area allowed water to pool between curbs and then flow down onto the West River Parkway below.

"This could have been way worse," he said. "Hennepin Avenue flowed like a river, but it was contained by the curbs."

Had the break occurred 10 blocks from the river, water could have pooled four or five feet high and caused flooding in adjacent buildings, he said.

No estimate for the cost of the leak has been compiled to date, aside from the roughly $65,000 cost of the lost water. Kotke said time sheets to be submitted Friday should give an estimate of the amount of extra labor costs incurred as dealing with the leak extended into the weekend. He said the city attorney's office has assigned an investigator to the incident with the goal of reclaiming those costs.

Steve Brandt • 612-673-4438 Twitter: @brandtstrib

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