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City forced to deal with spike in watermain breaks

By: Darren MacDonald - Sudbury Northern Life

 | Mar 17, 2014 - 8:05 PM |
A watermain break on The Kingsway is seen in this file photo. Already this year, city crews have dealt with 70 watermain breaks, compared to 78 in all of 2012. File photo.

A watermain break on The Kingsway is seen in this file photo. Already this year, city crews have dealt with 70 watermain breaks, compared to 78 in all of 2012. File photo.

Already dealt with 70 in 2014, compared to 78 in all of 2012

It won't just be the snow plowing budget that will be much higher than forecast this year, warns the chair of the city's operation committee.

Ward 2 Coun. Jacques Barbeau said Monday that the public works staff have already dealt with 70 watermain breaks so far in 2014. That compares to 78 for all of 2012.

“And we haven't seen the worst of it yet,” Barbeau said. “Once the ground starts to thaw and it starts to heave, we'll likely see significantly higher numbers. And of course, we still have November and December to deal with.”

A February watermain break in Lively could have been much more serious, he said, and left residents without water for weeks. In that case, a six-inch waterline froze and broke “in the middle of a swamp.” But thanks to the efforts of city crews, the line was repaired in 20 hours.

The reason for the spike in problems this year is partially related to the cold winter, which leads to more frozen pipes and more problems. But underlying that issue is the age of the infrastructure. The city should be spending $53 million a year to maintain the pipes, but spends only $33 million. The accumulated deficit sits at $700 million.

That means the frequency and severity of the line breaks will worsen with time. Historically, the worst year in recent memory was 1994, when there were a little more than 160 breaks. There were about 130 in 2009.

City staff presented council with options to accelerate the repair of the lines, and said the city could catch up on its annual spending in 10 years if rate increases of 4.5 per cent a year were included only for replacement of aging infrastructure. However, councillors approved a lower increase of one per cent to minimize property tax increase.

“So I'm sure we're going to see the (watermain repair) budget out of whack, too,” Barbeau said.

Members of the committee were also told Monday that city's snow removal budget was $3 million higher than forecast for 2013. And already in 2014, it's $1 million higher than forecast. The winter maintenance budget for 2013 was forecast at $15,048,748, but came in at just more than $18 million.

Bad weather pushed costs $718,000 overbudget in December 2013 alone. For 2013 as a whole, only March recorded lower-than-normal snowfall amounts, with the annual tally for the entire winter coming in at 310 cm -- 53 cm more than average.

The 2014 snowplowing budget was increased to almost $16 million, but with 92 cm of snow falling in January – 32 cm more than normal – the city is already overbudget by $1.05 million.

Historically, spikes in Greater Sudbury's snowplowing budgets are paid for from a reserve fund that is replenished in years with milder winters.

For example, the snowplowing budget came in $1 million lower than forecast as recently as 2012. In 2010, mild weather resulted in a surplus of more than $4 million.

While there is still money in the reserve fund, Tony Cecutti, the city's general manager of infrastructure said Monday he wasn't sure of exactly how much was left in the fund.

The winter road maintenance budget includes plowing, sanding and salting 3,560 lane kilometres in Greater Sudbury. It includes money to handle 33 winter storms each year, as well money for such items as hauling away snow, removing snowbanks and plowing sidewalks.

Sudbury's winter maintenance budget has increased substantially since 2002, when it totalled $7.8 million. It was $13.6 million in 2007, and will come in at a little more than $18 million in 2013.
Darren MacDonald

Darren MacDonald

Staff Writer


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