Downtown businesses deal with break damage

Nathan Baker • Sep 25, 2013 at 8:53 AM

Downtown business owners and employees have grown accustomed to flooding during Johnson City’s rainy season, but none of them expected a deluge Monday when the weather was sunny and fair.

When a heavy metal plate fell into a utility trench on an uncovered 12-inch water main Monday afternoon, the resulting rupture sent a geyser into the sky as tall as a nearby two-story building, turned Market and Main streets into temporary streams and once again filled downtown basements with water.

At LaLonde’s Bridal Boutique, which was near the epicenter of the eruption, owner Linda Fields and bridal consultant Kimberly Perry spent most of Tuesday vacuuming standing water out of a downstairs storage area.

“Fortunately, nothing was damaged,” Perry said while Fields manned the wet/dry vac. “We’ve been flooded before, so all the dresses were up high. It needs to be a pretty substantial flood to get to them.”

The water in the basement was about 2-inches deep Monday evening, but the level dropped considerably by the following morning.

Perry said LaLonde’s opened for business as usual Tuesday while the cleanup continued downstairs.

Downstream at Main Street Pizza Company, bar manager Laura Cloer said the restaurant closed an hour early Monday night because water service had been shut down while crews worked to stop the flow from the damaged pipe.

“The line burst at about 3, and I came in to work at 4,” she said. “When we closed and left at about 11:30 it was still flowing.”

Cloer said the 20-foot geyser had been reduced to a steady stream through downtown by the time she arrived.

“I knew they had been working there for a while, so I thought it was intentional at first,” she said. “But then I realized just how bad it was.”

No water intruded into the restaurant’s ground-floor dining room, but Cloer said some of the business’ property was damaged when the basement of the King’s Centre was flooded.

A city crew worked through the night to replace a 9-foot section of the broken pipe, restoring water service to the downtown area and allowing the restaurant to reopen Tuesday.

Tom Witherspoon, the city’s water and sewer director, said part of the intensity of the rupture came from the densely packed district’s enlarged utility lines.

“We have a lot of flow down there, it’s a very robust part of our system,” he said. “Like most downtown water systems, it’s a lot of pipes because of the need for fire protection.”

Witherspoon said the spectacular spout was reduced by about two-thirds within a half-hour and two hours later was down by 70 percent of the original gush.

“That’s pretty good for the number of valves and the age of the system down there,” he said of the century-old infrastructure. “We didn’t get it fully stopped until much later.”

The contractors working for the city, the telephone company and the electric department will meet next week to determine if the temporary shutdown has affected the utilities project’s schedule.

“It just occurred yesterday, so I can’t speak from the power and phone’s standpoint, but I don’t think there will be much impact,” Witherspoon said.

City Risk Management Director Joy Baker said the city is working closely with the affected property owners and the insurance company representing the contractor who ruptured the pipe.

“We’ve been in touch with the insurance carrier, and have set up a claim file for those businesses,” she said. “(Washington County Economic Development Council Redevelopment Director) Shannon Castillo is helping us relay the correct information to those who were impacted.”

Baker said so far, only one person has contacted the city’s office, while the owners of the King’s Centre and Paxton Place have contacted Castillo.

Affected property owners seeking information about filing a claim with the insurance company can call Baker at 434-6006 or Castillo at 202-3510.

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