Crews tackling winter’s wake
While many Borderland residents are celebrating the spring sunshine and warmer temperatures after such a harsh winter, it’s just meant trading one set of problems for another for Public Works’ crews.
“Old Man Winter put a beating on our town,” Operations and Facilities manager Doug Brown said this morning.
Recent jobs have included a watermain break at the corner of Front Street and Victoria Avenue, as well as two cave-ins along Third Street West.
At the corner of Third Street West and Keating Avenue, the manhole lifted and gravel ran into the storm sewer—a job that has to be fixed so the sewer doesn’t plug up and run into basements.
Brown explained the town uses culverts and the connection to the storm sewer in older sections of town is not watertight or soil tight, like it is where recent infrastructure replacement has taken place.
He noted that when storm sewer pipes are in the “frost zone” of soil, there is ice build-up, which reduces the capacity of the pipe.
Because of the “spring run,” there is a high volume of water coming through the pipes—squirting out of the pipe joints.
This water thaws the soil surrounding the pipe, then the saturated soil goes back into the joint and infiltrates the storm sewer.
The road then collapses because the sand or soil supporting it is now in the storm sewer.
And on south side of Third Street West, there is a very large sinkhole where a storm sewer pipe collapsed.
Brown said the town has 84 km of pipe in the ground—some of it more than 100 years old.
“With the older stuff, you look at where all our breaks are, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that out,” he remarked.
Brown said the soil here has a high silt content and silt is very susceptible to frost—it expands like water when it’s cold.
This, in turn, leads to the ground heaving.
Brown noted a prime example of a heave is the patch of road on Colonization Road West near the cemetery.
“People think that it’s a water line under there or pipe under there—that is just the soil moving,” he remarked.
When the soil freezes and expands, it has only one place to go—up.
This will go down once the frost goes out of the ground.
Brown said he has never seen frost seven-eight feet deep here before, like it was this year.
He admitted some of the water service lines which froze this winter are shallow, but most are not (the frost is just that deep).
Brown noted Fort Frances is not alone, as places like Winnipeg and Kenora also experienced numerous infrastructure problems because of the unusually harsh winter.
But it does go to show the town’s infrastructure needs fixing, he added, noting the town only is replacing the old pipes at a rate one-fifth of how fast they should be.
Meanwhile, Brown said the number of new water lines being reported frozen has stopped, with the only exception being one at a residence of snowbirds who had been away for the winter.
But he stressed that residents who have been running their taps should not stop doing so until probably mid-May.
“It takes a while for the frost to come up,” noted Brown.
There is a small number of residences whose lines the town was unable to thaw using they equipment they have, but those have been using temporary water lines.
The town will try to get back to these residences eventually, but has had to priorize its workload and respond to more urgent matters, like watermain breaks.
In related news, because town staff have been so busy with water, sewer, and road problems, care of the recycling bins on Sixth Street West has fallen a bit behind, as pointed out by some local residents.
“We might have not emptied them as much as we should because using the loaders down on the job site and the guys have been working overtime doing that, working until nine o’clock doing the dig making sure everyone’s got water,” said Brown.
“And then there’s catch basin problems, so we’re using the loaders to move snow to get the steamer into the catch basins,” he added.
“I think you should see it improve here in the next little while.”
There should be even less mess later this year once the town upgrades the “blue box” transfer station/drop-off facility here.
The town has received funding for the installation of two new stationary compactor units with properly-sized hoppers and four 40 cubic yard roll-off containers.
Once this new compaction equipment is installed and operational, the four eight-cubic yard drop-off bins currently at Sixth Street West will be taken out of service.
As well, “blue box” recyclables will not be stored in the existing storage building. Instead, they will be compacted and then stored in four roll-off containers.
These containers will be shipped off in container trucks, which can haul two at one time.
Recyclables currently are shipped in walking floor trailers.
This means the manpower and equipment (loader) used to load the walking floor trailers, and emptying the four drop-off bins on a regular basis, will be free to do other maintenance tasks for the town, such as winter control activities or adjusting catch basins.
All of this is expected to save the town $63,588 a year.