Update: Water main break will cost OPALCO $1,000

Homes in the Friday Avenue area were without water for about five hours Feb. 23 after an OPALCO worker broke a water main while digging to replace a light pole.

The 4-inch pipe was made of asbestos/concrete. The break occurred about 11:30 a.m. Town workers replaced a section of the pipe and had water service restored by 4:40 p.m.

Before household service was restored, the water main was flushed to clear it of debris, Town Administrator King Fitch said.

All told, 30 homes were affected on Friday Avenue, Beach Court and MacDonald Street.

Fitch said OPALCO submitted a request for location of underground utilities at the dig site on Feb. 20. He said the town has 48 workweek hours to do the locate — that puts the response at Feb. 24 — but the dig took place before the area was marked.

Suzanne Olson, OPALCO’s communication specialist, said Feb. 24, “It was a mistake.”

Olson said a Friday Harbor OPALCO crew is replacing three poles on Friday Avenue that have rotted out. An OPALCO foreman called in a locate on Feb. 20 and was informed the locate would happen no later than Feb. 25.

On Feb. 23, the foreman had the crew do some hand-digging around the pole in advance (to 2-foot depth) to clear some of OPALCO’s underground lines. Thinking the area was clear of obstacles, the foreman gave the go-ahead to drill with an auger to set the new pole.

“At approximately 11:30 a.m., the auger drilled through a four-inch water main,” Olson said.

Olson said it’s not common for a water line to be located so close to a pole — only six inches. But OPALCO was making no excuses for the break. “There has been a debrief, and our policy is to call pre-dig and wait for the locate,” she said.

OPALCO General Manager Randy Cornelius apologized for the incident. “OPALCO regrets the mistake and apologizes to the Friday Harbor residents who were inconvenienced by the water outage,” he said.

Fitch said OPALCO will be billed about $1,000 for the cost of fixing the break. The town paid $1,100 to OPALCO when town workers broke a power line in the Hillview Terrace area.

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