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Bennington water plan in place, recovery continues

August 30, 2011

NEAL P. GOSWAMI
Staff Writer
BENNINGTON — Bennington officials are hoping to begin repairing a broken water main that has separated the town from its water filtration plant in Woodford by noon Wednesday. Meanwhile, they worked on a plan Tuesday to keep water flowing to homes and businesses during the restoration efforts.

Bennington Town Manager Stuart A. Hurd said Tuesday morning that at least 17 homes in Woodford, on the eastern side of the washed out bridge, were without water. Town staff delivered bottled water to those homes, he said.

A broken Bennington water main is visible where a bridge collapsed on Route 9 in Woodford. (Neal P. Goswami/Bennington Banner)

A 3 million gallon tank on Chapel Road that serves most of town was dwindling, but Hurd said water department staff were planning to pump water from the Morgan Spring back into the tank late Tuesday night and early Wednesday morning when demand decreased. He said the water system was designed to redirect water to the tank and can be filled enough each night to provide a day’s worth of water to the town.

“We know the pump system will work,” he said.

Meanwhile, Vermont Pure, which has a contract to pump water from Morgan Spring for bottling, will bring 8,000 to to 16,000 gallons of water per day to a smaller tank serving Burgess and Barney Roads.

Work will begin Wednesday on installing several hundred yards of above-ground, temporary water main to reconnect the filtration plant. Once completed, the town will “blow out” the line to clean it, heavily chlorinate it and then begin state-required testing.

“That will provide the connection to the municipal system downtown. At the same time, we’ll be working to make sure that the intake is clear and that it is functioning properly. If that is not we’ve made arrangements to receive a large pump that will pump directly from the Bolles Brook into the filtration plant,” Hurd said.

It is possible the system could be returned to normal this weekend, according to Hurd.

“If everything goes the way we hope it will go we’ll be able to turn that system on Saturday morning without a boil order. We’ll be back to normal,” he said.

Residents are still being urged to conserve as much as possible as the town attempts to bring the system back online. Water should be available to nearly everyone for the next two days until the water main can be replaced, Hurd said.

“We’re talking about: Don’t do laundry. Don’t wash your car. Don’t use water excessively. Please be hygienic. Don’t withhold those basic kind of hygienic needs. If you can flush your toilet on alternate uses, those kinds of things, that’s great,” he said.

Meanwhile, town staff have contacted high water users and businesses to ask them to reduce use or temporarily shut down.

“If everybody cooperates, if industries cooperate, and right now they’ve been very cooperative, … we think we can get through this crisis and get the system back online so that everybody will have water,” he said.

Bottled water donated by Walmart was distributed Tuesday to residents of Bennington and Woodford. About 1,200 cases of water were handed out by dozens of volunteers, including local Boy Scouts, said Bennington Police Chief Paul Doucette. Cars were lined up, about 40 deep at one point, seeking water, he said. Each family was offered one case of water with proof of residency.

Vermont Pure delivered another truck load of bottled water for distribution on Wednesday, Doucette said. He said another 1,000 cases of water are available between 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. at the Bennington Fire House.

People who can afford to purchase water should do so, Hurd said.

“We’re going to be doing our best to help distribute water to families, but my message to the public would be, if you can afford to go buy bottled water and not take the free water, please buy bottled water and let us service those people who may not be able to afford it,” Hurd said.

Town officials met Tuesday morning with state officials and a contractor at the bridge on Route 9 in Woodford that washed out, taking the water main with it. Local and state officials had hoped to begin working to install a temporary, one-lane bridge Tuesday afternoon and into Wednesday. That turned out to not be feasible, however,

Agency of Transportation Deputy Secretary Sue Minter said transportation officials are working as quickly as possible to assess the widespread damage to roads and bridges across much of the state from Tropical Storm Irene.

“We’re certainly triaging every need that we have,” Minter said. “We have dramatic needs across the state.”

At least 30 state bridges were damaged or destroyed by the raging flood waters caused by heavy rains over the weekend. She said officials were attempting to reach out to contractors and companies and determine how many temporary spans are available.

“Every single location needs to be visited by a team of technical experts to be evaluated. This is a very significant undertaking,” Minter said. “Be assured, we will replace the bridge as quickly as we can,” she said.

Meanwhile, state Agency of Transportation officials said Monday night that waters had receded enough on the Batten Kill to reopen Route 7A in Arlington to traffic.  Route 7 between Arlington and Manchester was also reopened to two-way traffic. Route 7 in Brandon and Rutland continues to have stretches of closed road but traffic — excluding tractor-trailers — can detour around the closed areas.

More roads and bridges were expected to be reopened in Manchester and Sunderland Tuesday night.

The town of Bennington will be assisting with policing needs in Wilmington because the Wilmington Police Department’s station was wiped out by flooding, Doucette said. “We will do whatever it takes to help get Wilmington back on their feet,” he said.

Work will begin Wednesday to clean the Roaring Branch channel, Hurd said. Six contractors will work simultaneously near the Hunt Street and Park Street bridges. Trees and other debris will be removed and the channel will be reconfigured according to a river management plan recently developed by the town and the state Agency of Natural Resources, Hurd said.

Crews will attempt to replace land that rapidly eroded during the flooding and to armor the rebuilt banks, he said. The work must be completed to avoid further loss of property, according to Hurd. He said the costly work can be reimbursed at 75 percent by the federal government, and possible 12.5 percent by the state.

Local bridges are also being examined by a structural engineer. Formal reviews will take place soon. In the meantime, the town’s covered bridges and the Park Street and Brooklyn bridges remain closed.

Town officials also battled the spread of incorrect information spreading rapidly through town by social networking. They were urging residents to make sure they receive information from credible sources. “If people use the (Bennington Police Department’s Facebook page) they will get accurate information. Right now there is a ton of inaccurate information floating around on Facebook and it’s unfortunate,” Hurd said.

One rumor, that the town was planning to shut off water service, was particularly difficult to squash, Doucette said.

“The phone calls continue to flow into the Bennington Police Department about the town shutting off water. We are not going to turn off the water. Nobody has even talked about turning off the water. There are lots of rumors and it’s getting people fired up,” he said.

Gov. Peter Shumlin toured the Vermont State Hospital in Waterbury Tuesday morning, which suffered flood damage over the weekend. Shumlin, Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Peter Welch also met Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Craig Fugate at the Burlington International Airport before touring affected areas of the state by helicopter.

Contact Neal P. Goswami at ngoswami@benningtonbanner.com

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