Water board looking at improvements

WEIRTON – With a weeklong water outage nearly two years ago still fresh in their memory, the city’s water board on Thursday discussed what they can do now to prevent more problems down the road.

The board already installed a backup 18-inch transmission line from the treatment plant that connects to a 24-inch water main flowing throughout the city. Now if one of the transmission lines fails, they can simply switch to the other and maintain service throughout the city.

But a 1960s-era, 18-inch spiral reinforced steel water line from the treatment plant on Birch Drive to the heart of the downtown area, however, is still a concern. That’s the same kind of pipe that failed in the transmission line two years ago, leaving residents without water for days while crews scrambled to do a workaround.

“That old, 1964-vintage spiral-wound pipe is still in the ground,” Utilities Director A.D. “Butch” Mastrantoni said. “We have five miles of it, from the plant to the intersection of Weir Avenue and Cove Road. The question is if the 18-inch line goes out, how do we make sure the rest of the town has water.”

Spiral wound pipe is no longer the industry standard, he said, and is difficult to use and at the end of its useful life. “When you have a spiral reinforced steel line that’s 50 or 60 years old, to not do anything, to just take our chances, would be irresponsible,” he said.

A grant-funded study done over the last three months came up with two potential solutions to the problem, Thrasher Engineering’s Jonathan Carpenter said.

They are creating a “looped” system by installing isolation valves between the old 18-inch line and a newer 24-inch line or cutting holes in the existing 18-inch spiral wound pipe and sliding a 14-inch “liner” inside.

Lining the pipe would be costly – estimates were in the $3.7 million range – but more effective in the long run. Mastrantoni said the board is poised to retire some existing bond debt in 2015, which would free up about $400,000 “that we could apply to debt service on this project.” And when that bond is retired, a consultant has indicated they might be able to borrow as much as $6.9 million at current rates to fund the upgrades.

“Nobody’s got a gun to our heads, it’s a decision we can take our time and make,” Mastrantoni told the board, while Chairman Jim Shockley pointed out it would be “a big break for our customers if we can pull it off.”

In other matters, the board tabled action on a video security system for the treatment plant pending further review.

Members also heard a presentation on an online payment system, something customers have requested and staff members have said would be cost-effective.

(Harris can be contacted at lharris@heraldstaronline.com.)