Sitka’s Water Main’s Fixed, But Who Pays For Repairs?

Sitka’s water system is back in business.

Local officials feared the coastal community would run out of water this morning after the main line broke.

A contractor rebuilding Sitka’s Sawmill Creek Road damaged the line yesterday afternoon while blasting rock. Water began flowing through the pipe again this morning after repairs were completed.

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A Sitka official says the Sawmill Creek Road contractor is responsible for the cost of repairing Wednesday’s water-main break.

Sitka Public Works Director Michael Harmon says Anchorage-based Quality Asphalt Paving will be asked to cover the costs. City and company crews worked together to reach and fix the damage.

He says it’s at least the second time blasting has stopped water flowing from Blue Lake, Sitka’s water source.

“They are responsible, definitely in our mind. And we will be pursuing to recoup the funds, not only of our staff, but equipment and so forth,” Harmon says.

The company did not immediately respond to a call requesting comment.

Officials feared the community would run out of water this (Thursday) morning after the line from Blue Lake was damaged.

The contractor ruptured the line about 3 p.m. Wednesday while blasting rock. Water began flowing through the pipe again this (Thursday) morning after repairs were completed.

The city’s industrial park and some nearby neighbors were reconnected later because they’re supplied with a different pipe, which also broke. Users in those areas were advised to boil water during the next two days.

Harmon says the earlier contractor-caused water-main break took place in June.

He also says a September water-line break closer to town happened at the same time blasting took place. He says the explosion may have increased pressure, blowing out a weak, old pipe.

Officials on Wednesday asked residents to conserve water to slow the drain on Sitka’s storage tanks. They said the tanks held about a 12-hour supply.

Meanwhile, grocers saw a run on packaged water Wednesday night.

Max Rule is chief financial officer of the parent company for two Sitka stores. He says shelves were largely emptied of bottles, as well as gallon sizes.

“And interestingly enough, we also sold a tremendous amount of water containers. So I imagine folks were probably taking those containers and filling those up from the taps and getting stockpiled for the evening,” he says.

He says water is back on shelves today (Thursday).

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Ed Schoenfeld is Regional News Director for CoastAlaska, a consortium of public radio stations in Ketchikan, Juneau, Sitka, Petersburg and Wrangell. He primarily covers Southeast Alaska regional topics, including the state ferry system, transboundary mining, the Tongass National Forest and Native corporations and issues. He has also worked as a manager, editor and reporter for the Juneau Empire newspaper and Juneau public radio station KTOO. He’s also reported for commercial station KINY in Juneau and public stations KPFA in Berkley, WYSO in Yellow Springs, Ohio, and WUHY in Philadelphia. He’s lived in Alaska since 1979 and is a contributor to Alaska Public Radio Network newscasts, the Northwest (Public Radio) News Network and National Native News. He is a board member of the Alaska Press Club. Originally from Cleveland, Ohio, he lives in Douglas.