The prayers — and probably a few curses — of some St. John’s residents may have been answered Monday night when city council voted to spend $8 million to replace some of the oldest and most problematic water pipes in the city.
Pipes that were dug up during a rupture this spring were stamped with the year 1915.
Design work will begin immediately for the project, and construction is set to start sometime in 2013.
The news consumed a lot of time during Monday night’s meeting as various councillors expressed their support for the move.
Coun. Danny Breen, chairman of the finance and administration committee, presented the recommendation to council.
“We looked at many different options for the budget surplus, but council was unanimous in that we need to use these funds to address some of the ongoing issues we have been having with our water transmission system,” Breen said in a news release earlier in the day.
“This will be money well spent.”
The money is coming from a $10-million surplus posted in 2010. Some of that cash, $2 million, had already been set aside for roadwork this summer.
The city considered at least two other options for the money — paying down its debt or the unfunded pension liability — but in the end they were rejected.
Coun. Tom Hann applauded the move and said council is “looking after the basics,” with this decision and others like it.
“There were a lot of demands on the $8-million surplus — believe me. Everybody had a project for it,” said Hann.
The recommendation to council was three-fold.
First, it stated the highest-priority pipes to be replaced will be along Portugal Cove Road from Newfoundland Drive to New Cove Road and along Mayor Avenue.
These areas have had several large, and highly publicized, water main breaks recently. In most cases, the road above the pipe was obliterated and multiple homes were flooded, usually resulting in significant damage.
Some residents had experienced two or even three floods in the past decade.
Second, the recommendation orders that a multi-year plan be written to prioritize repair of other problematic water pipes in the city.
Breen indicated that according to city estimates there is at least $24-million worth of water pipe replacement projects needed in the city. Council has been delaying the work in previous budgets because of lack of funds.
Finally, city staff has been asked to take a closer look at areas prone to flooding and that might require future attention — Rennie's River and Mundy Pond were two examples.
Coun. Frank Galgay, who represents the area around Mayor Avenue, applauded all three recommendations.
“If we put this off for another two or three years — because of inflation and costs of labour — this project could be three times as much. So I’m very pleased this evening. Very delighted,” Galgay said.
Galgay also added that the move makes economic sense for the city. Every time a pipe bursts, it takes time and money to dig up the road, fix the problem and repave.