Weather changes wreak havoc on streets

ALPENA – The inconsistent winter weather the area has been experiencing has been taking a toll on the city’s water system, as well as the streets. As temperatures fluctuated between 50 degrees and zero this past week, the city had several water main breaks. If it continues there could be a lasting impact on the roads.

City Engineer Rich Sullenger said the city was notified by United Water there was something odd in the amount of water consumption and it was determined a break had taken place. He said typically it doesn’t take long for a leak to show itself, but with this particular line break it took several days. Sullenger said the water from the main was leaking, but was being taken in by a damaged sewer line. He said the break finally was found because the water eroded the soil beneath the road which caused part of Ripley Boulevard to collapse. He estimated between1.5 and 2.5 million gallons of water had been leaked.

“We knew we had a leak in the system, but they are sometimes very difficult to locate. A lot of times you have to wait for them to boil to the surface,” Sullenger said. “In this particular instance, it didn’t. The water washed through the ground from the break to the storm drain and it washed out the sand and eventually the road started to dip. Once we identified that DPW and because they were busy plowing snow we had a contractor come in and do the repairs.”

Sullenger said the crazy weather has taken its toll on the water system. He said there were two more breaks on Thursday. There was a break on Lockwood Street and another on Hubert Road. He said if the weather patterns continue to go up and down, it is likely more breaks in the water system will take place.

“These temperature fluxuations are really tough on the system. We usually see a rash of breaks in the fall when we go from no frost to frost conditions, but we had two more leaks (Thursday) and I think it is directly related to the weather,” Sullenger said. “Usually we’re in pretty good shape this time of year because the ground is normally frozen, but with this thaw we had there could be more. I hope not. Especially from a budget aspect.”

The Department of Public Works has an inventory of pipes and fittings needed to make the repairs when a leak occurs, but Sullenger said breaks aren’t cheap to fix, especially if additional work is needed to the street, like the one on Ripley will require.

“That was probably a $10,000 to $15,000 repair bill or will be when everything is done,” Sullenger said. “We also identified that the sanitary (pipe) across a piece of Ripley needs to be replaced, so we are going to try to find the money in the budget to do that the first thing in the spring and then repair the road.”

Sullenger said when the section of Ripley Boulevard left a large hole that could have consumed a vehicle. Ripley is one of the busiest streets in Alpena and Sullenger said he is happy the collapse didn’t happen while a car was on it or near it. He said if an accident would have taken place the city would have been held responsible.

“We always hope something like that never happens. Could it happen? Yes, it could, and that is why we have liability insurance,” Sullenger said. “With that size of hole it could have been pretty catastrophic if someone were to have driven across it and the road had failed at that particular instance. We were fortunate.”

Steve Schulwitz can be reached via e-mail at or by phone at 358-5689.