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Roads, water mains get much-needed attention

| August 17, 2007 12:00 AM

By KYLE McCLELLAN The Western News

Libby's water main system is approaching 100 years old and its leaky infrastructure is undergoing a piece-by-piece replacement, according to city officials.

Infrastructure all around the nation is deteriorating and the state of Libby's system is illustrated by a few telling examples.

Among them, according to mayor Tony Berget, is the time crews unearthed a five-foot section of pipe that was leaking from nine holes. Or the time a city worker stepped on a pipe, his foot puncturing it with a gaping hole.

The process' pace is limited by scarce funds and a stubborn pipe system under Montana Avenue.

"Anything that could go wrong has gone wrong on that," Berget said, referring to failing parts, bad weather and general bad luck.

A water truck workers were using to pressure-test broke down. It's now in the shop awaiting parts.

Mud got into the water line after one of the area's few rain showers. Workers had to remove the pipe, clean it and re-install it.

Finally, a pressure block popped during a pressure test.

"The water mains are just horrendous around the city," Berget said.

According to city services supervisor Dan Thede, a survey commissioned in 2001 put the cost of a total water system replacement at $28 million dollars.

Berget said rising prices may now put that figure at around $35 million.

"That's not possible all at once. We can't afford it. But if we can keep hammering away at sections of it, it'll happen," he said.

The good news is that a large portion of old pipes have been fixed and replaced, especially in the city's southwest residential areas.

"We have a pretty active program to update the system," Thede said.

The water system's previous owner, Pacific Power, ran small 2-inch pipes to connect a growing population base.

Now, Thede and crews must replace the undersized pipes with larger ones.

Berget theorized on the underground problem's persistence.

"It's out of sight, out of mind, he said. "At some point, you can't just keep patching."

The water main patchwork is occurring while other roadwork is done in preparation for the school year.

Within the next two weeks, intersections and crosswalks near Asa Wood Elementary School, the middle school and high school will be outlined by a fresh coat of paint.

Libby is a pedestrian-friendly community, Berget said, and motorists should be prepared to stop when a crosswalk is occupied.

In other road work, crews are busy chip-sealing new roads near Johnson Acres. Affected streets include Cedar, Spruce, Poplar, Balsam and Larch. Avenues include Main, Airth, Washington and Montana.