Fort Smith plagued by water and sewer problems

Fort Smith plagued by water and sewer problems
Crews dig at the juncture of McDougal Rd. and Conibear Cres. to find what they think is a failed waterline valve at the heart of all the problems.Photo: Don Jaque.

Fort Smith was hit by a simultaneous water line break and sewer main blockage last week, leaving public works and contract crews scrambling to repair the damage during extreme winter weather.

The source of the problems, now believed to be a faulty valve buried beneath the intersection of McDougal Rd. and Conibear Cres., was finally diagnosed on Monday, with heavy equipment and work crews on the scene digging down to carefully isolate the leaking high pressure water line so it could be repaired.

The town’s main sewage line had been plugged on McDougal, causing random back ups and sewage-contaminated “grey water” to flood basements for two blocks along the main street. Several residences were hit, as well as town hall, the library and the federal building.

After five days of challenging problems, Monday morning started off with good news that the problem of the sewer main blockage, a damaged manhole near the water leak, had been temporarily repaired so that the sewage system could function again.

Town crews believe the manhole was undermined by the high pressure water underground, which pushed sand into it, plugging the sewer main and stopping the flow toward the sewage lagoon. The water then got into the sewer line and backed things up along McDougal.

Cold weather hampered the repair efforts throughout last week and over the weekend. Work crews, often frustrated and fatigued as they worked long into bitterly cold nights, struggled with frozen equipment.

Town Hall with its deep basement was one of the first places hit by the flooding, sending crews scrambling to rescue stored documents first thing Wednesday morning. Flooding at the federal building shut it down all day Wednesday until it could be drained and cleaned. The town library, which has a large book collection downstairs, avoided costly damage.

All buildings were open again on Thursday and council is expected to hold its Tuesday night council meeting this week as usual in its basement chambers. The cost of the cleanup and repairs has yet to be calculated.

“Until we get the repairs done, there’s no way to even hazard a guess,” Fort Smith senior administrative office Jim Hood told The Journal.

Water had to be shut off on Conibear, leaving a number of buildings without water including the high school, which remains closed, adding an extended break following last week’s professional development days.

As of press time on Monday, the plan by town officials was to get as much prep work done as possible at the site of the leaking water line so that when it came time to shut off water in a large area of town, the repair to the water line could be carried out quickly, affecting residents for the shortest time possible.

Fort Smith director of Municipal Services, Keith Morrison, praised the efforts and cooperation by everyone during such a challenging time. He said town crews and local contractors, as well as Hay River contractors who arrived with support equipment, all stepped up and did what was needed.

Even those residences who had been impacted by the sewer problems were cooperative and understanding, he added.

“It has been a great team effort. We have received nothing but support from everyone,” Morrison said.

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