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Frost freezes out Rushford residents

By Kirsten Zoellner

Fri, Feb 14th, 2014
Posted in Rushford Government

It’s been a frequent topic of conversation across the tri-state region in recent weeks; record-setting frost levels freezing lines and residents’ access to water. Measured at nearly six feet in some areas, the frost being driven down by the endless deep freeze has sent communities scrambling to find a way to help residents and Rushford is just the latest.

The freezing is occurring on water line laterals, extending from the water main to homes and businesses, under the street. Problems of deep frost are being made worse when streets are plowed clear, causing the uninsulated laterals are seizing up. Several communities, including Rushford have already issued warnings regarding the signs to watch for and what can be done. In some areas, however, even that isn’t enough.

For the Rushford residents of East Grove Street, the problem has been persistent. eighty year old resident Helen Overboe has been without water service for a week. Neighbors Brian and Pauline Espe and Joe and Dorothy Himlie are experiencing problems, as well, but have been able to thaw the lines with the help of professional services. Overboe’s line is plastic, rather than copper, and is unable to be thawed using arc welders. Local plumbing service G.S. Woxland spent several hours trying to clear the line, using steam, but was unable to. “They put in 77 feet of tubing and never got past the ice,” said Overboe. “It was like running into a wall.”

The three residents are the only on a line section and are wondering if upgrades done in 2010 may have had a hand in their recent woes. “We lived here for 12 years prior to that and it never froze. Since construction, it has frozen twice in three years,” noted Brian Espe.

“We’ve been here more than 30 years and it has frozen twice,” added Dorothy Himlie. “Has something happened since the ground was disturbed? It seems awful coincidental.” Both families paid to have the problem remedied, with Himlie’s residence thawed by a two-man crew, with three arc welders, over nearly 30-hours. To prevent further freezing and under professional advice, they are running a pencil-sized stream of water constantly and running large amounts of hot water twice a day to keep the sewer line from freezing due to the influx of frigid water down the drain. “That water is cold, and I mean cold,” she cautioned.

“It costs money to heat the water. It costs money to run the faucet. It costs money to get it cleaned out. It’s too much water. I was raised in the country. I wasn’t raised to waste things,” added Himlie, who notes she is reusing as much of the water as possible. Still, it’s estimated that the stream they’re running is roughly a gallon a minute, easily an extra $400 on their water bill. “In a worst case scenario, give us extra time to pay the bill.”

Rushford has decided to do more than that, instead crediting residents who have notified that city that they will be running extra water to keep the lines open. “As a city, we need to step forward and pay the extra,” said Councilor Roger Colbenson.

City Administrator Steve Sarvi will contact city engineers regarding possible elevation or other changes which could be a part of the problem. Additionally, a plan will be made to get in to the lines, later in the year, and insulate them as a preventative. “It’s not going to help this year, but I suggest the city take ownership on this and insulate the pipes,” advised Sarvi. “In the long term, the engineers need to come up with a solution. In the short term, contact city hall if you’re going to run water.”

The city admits that it’s not going to be easy determining how to formulate a credit system. Excess usage does appear on city systems, but it may prove difficult to use it in applying credits in a way that’s fair to all. For now, the city continues to urge residents to monitor their water temperature. If 40 degrees or below, residents are urges to contact city hall and run a steady flow of water. In addition, other warning signs such as bursts of rust will alert residents to potential problems.

“It happens very quickly,” added Overboe. “It was maybe an hour in between when I was using it and when it froze up. I never thought we’d have a problem.”

“We may be in for big trouble,” cautioned Colbenson. “It’s still two and a half, three months until that frost comes out.”

In other news, the city has extended its microgrant funding program another $5,000. The program has been an overwhelming success and additional Economic Development Authority funds, including matchable amounts, will expand the program further. Additionally, the program is working to further encourage local vendors and suppliers for funded improvements.

“With the highway project, I think there’s a reasonable amount of folks who can use this opportunity,” noted Councilor Vern Bunke.

The next regularly scheduled council meeting is Monday, February 24, at 6:30 p.m., at city hall. The public is encouraged to attend.

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