By Dustin Luca
---- — Earlier this month, firefighters were responding to Red Spring Road hooked up to a rusty hydrant, only to have water shoot out its seams. As the blaze continued and the clock was ticking, firefighters were forced to pick up their equipment and move to another hydrant around 100 feet away.
Fire Chief Mike Mansfield said at the time his crews were fortunate to have a second working hydrant so close by. In other parts of town, however, that may not be the case.
Town Meeting voters will be hearing four proposals seeking to invest $2.7 million into the town’s water systems, targeting everything from century-old water mains to known faulty fire hydrants throughout Andover.
The requests make up articles 41, 42, 45 and 46 of this year’s Annual Town Meeting, which starts Monday, May 6, at 7 p.m. Among the articles:
:ARTICLE 41, MAJOR WATER MAIN REPLACEMENT: To spend $1 million on designing, engineering, constructing, reconstructing or replacing water mains.
ARTICLE 42, WATER DISTRIBUTION MAINTENANCE: To spend $500,000 on cleaning and lining, or replacing, water mains around town.
ARTICLE 45, FLUSHING PROGRAM: To spend $195,000 to launch a water distribution system flushing program.
ARTICLE 46, FIRE HYDRANT INFRASTRUCTURE MAINTENANCE: To spend $1 million to repair and replace fire hydrants throughout town.
Water main work is fairly routine around town, with a number of projects coming forward every year to work on the town’s ever-aging water lines. But the latter two articles are efforts that haven’t moved through the town in some time, according to Chris Cronin, acting director of the Department of Public Works.
Hydrants: $1 million for 300 replacements
In his time in town, Selectman Dan Kowalski has paid special attention to fire hydrants.
“A couple years ago, I was walking down the street and I saw this hydrant that was all covered in brush, and I said, `How can anybody even know it’s there? You can hardly see it,’” Kowalski said. “It started making me wonder about the overall condition of them.”
The town is almost done inspecting its more than 3,000 fire hydrant and has identified around 12 percent requiring replacement, Cronin said.
“It doesn’t mean they’ve all failed. It just means they need to be replaced,” Cronin said. “They’re worn out, tired, old. They don’t meet enough of the modern-day requirements for us to leave them in place.”
But there certainly isn’t balance to the 12 percent figure. Since the infrastructure in some parts of town is new, that puts the older parts of town — downtown Andover, Ballardvale — at a much higher level of needing attention, according to Cronin.
The $1 million appropriation would fund the first portion of work, Cronin said. More work will be necessary since it’s unlikely that all of the replacements will be completed by the end of the year. But he said he expects all future work will be funded within his department’s annual budget.
Even if a hydrant in town works, other problems could come to the surface when it is first opened up — literally.
In some parts of town, hydrants have been known to surge mud-brown deposits with water for the first few minutes after they’re opened because lines have become congested with settling material over the years.
That is where flushing comes into play. Cronin said he can’t remember the last time a system-wide flush took place, but a $195,000 investment would seek to correct that.
The money would hit the first two of three Andover water distribution systems, with the flushing and maintenance taking about two years to complete, Cronin said. The third system is older and expected to take another two years, he added.
The $195,000 funding request is considered expensive because of the unpredictable nature of the work involved, according to Cronin.
“The reason it’s going to be expensive the first time through, we’re going to find valves that need to be replaced that we don’t know about,” he said. “Valves have been put into the ground 100 years ago that haven’t been turned.”
The selectmen and the Finance Committee have recommended approval of all four articles. The flushing program cost would come out of water reserve cash, while the other three articles would require a 20-year bond, according to the Finance Committee.