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St. Paul Park pipes hit by cold weather

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news Cottage Grove, 55016
Cottage Grove Minnesota 7584 80th Street South 55016

Extremely cold weather and frequent freeze and thaw cycles are crippling water lines in St. Paul Park and have the city’s Public Works Department working overtime.

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Since the first cold snap rolled through the area in December, Public Works Director Rob Weldon said he has fielded calls for nearly 30 frozen water pipes and nine water main breaks.

“This is very rare,” Weldon said of the amount of activity. “Services like this don’t normally freeze up this often or this many times in one winter.”

Sub-zero temps, he added, have frozen the ground well below six feet, which places added pressure on the buried water lines. Historically, Weldon said, the ground usually only freezes two to three feet down.

Residential water lines have been hit the hardest.

“Those lines running from the residential dwellings to the road, we’re seeing a real high number of calls for frozen pipes,” Weldon said. “It’s in all areas of the city; newer pipes, older pipes. It’s all over.”

The department has the names of plumbers and welding services to assist in thawing frozen lines.

“What they do is they come out and do electrolysis on the (water) line,” Weldon said. “They hook it up to a fire hydrant or a curb stop, and complete an electrical circuit that will actually go through the copper pipe, heat it up and melt the ice to allow the water to start flowing again.”

At least one resident went several days without water earlier this month, Weldon said, adding that many plumbers and welding companies are backed up due to high demand of services.

“There have been a few residents that are upset, saying the city is not taking more of a responsibility for their services,” Weldon said. “But the city ordinance says the property owner is responsible for the line (that runs) from the structure to the curb.

“We are still trying to help as many people as we can though,” he added.

While a typical winter sees maybe one water main break, the city has already dealt with nine.

Water main lines run beneath roads. And with the ground underneath pavement showing signs of freezing even further down, Weldon said constant vehicle traffic adds to the problem.

“Cars driving on streets drives the frost down even more,” he explained. “It carries down into where the pipes are. And the shifting ground from the freeze and thaw cycle puts even more pressure onto the water mains.”

Just three days on the job in December, Weldon dealt with a water main break at Oltman Middle School, an event that sent students home early.

“These breaks are in various parts of the city, too,” Weldon said. “It’s in older parts, newer parts. The stress causes the pipe to form a hairline or bigger fracture and that’s when you’ll see water rising to the surface or pool in the road.”

Residents who are experiencing abnormally cold water coming from a faucet might be at risk of frozen pipes. In an extreme case only, Weldon suggested turning on the faucet and running a “small pencil stream” in an attempt to prevent the water from freezing.

While the solution could prevent pipes from freezing, the measure should be used as a last resort, Weldon said. And the city, at this time, is not handing out water credits to residents.

“The way it’s shaping up, March is usually when the ground starts to thaw out,” he said. “But I anticipate seeing a few more (frozen pipes).

“Between the snow, the wind and the cold, it’s been an interesting winter to start here.”

Neither the Cottage Grove nor Newport public works departments responded to requests for information about any weather-related water pipe problems.

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