The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

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March 29, 2013

Windber replacing 8 miles of aging water pipe

WINDBER — For nearly 90 years, a cast iron, mostly above-ground pipeline has brought water to the Windber area.

And often just 10 to 15 feet from busy Route 160, it’s taken a beating from nature’s elements, misguided motorists and even a few fallen trees, Windber Area Authority Manager Dennis Mash said.

“We’ve had cars hit it, acid mine drainage flowing over top of it – you name it,” Mash said.

A $7 million project to retire those 8 miles of line was well under way this week in the Windber area.

Crews from Westmoreland County-based Kukurin Contracting Inc. were busy extending a new line from 17th Street toward Hillside Avenue.  

Several miles south, efforts were ongoing to replace the authority’s 1920s-era main transmission line with new 18-inch PVC pipe.

Mash said the line has held up well through the years but was showing its age. Minerals in the water have corroded some of the pipeline, causing it to sprout a few leaks.

“In five to 10 years we would’ve really had problems on our hands,” he said.

Not that having an above-ground water line didn’t lead to plenty of its own problems through the years, Mash said, recalling a time a logger cut down a tree that fell on a portion of the line.

“Just like that, we had a 50-foot geyser,” he said.

Windber’s line is a rarity, Mash said. He observed that water lines are typically built several feet underground.

But Windber’s was originally built by Berwind during King Coal’s heyday – at a time water was likely needed in short order to supply local operations.

The state Department of Environmental Protection wasn’t too keen on the fact that the line that supplies all of the authority’s 9,500 customers could be run over by a pick-up truck in some spots.

Mash said the authority was told the line had to be replaced sooner rather than later – and fortunately, when it came time to apply for a state loan to make the project happen, the response came in the form of a $9 million loan.

It was enough to replace the 8-mile line and extend a line from 17th Street to Hillside Avenue, which has dealt with water pressure problems for years.

"These projects are vital to the future health and well-being of citizens all across Pennsylvania and will serve as a lasting legacy to our children and grandchildren,” Gov. Tom Corbett said at the time of the funding announcement.

The authority raised rates $5 monthly for the average household to repay the loan.

The loan will be repaid over 20 years at 1 percent interest – “but generations of people in this area will benefit from it,” Mash added.

The Windber Area Authority is having the line installed along the same path as the current one, and just below it.

Mash said the work began in January.

Kukurin has a year to finish the project but has already completed about two miles of line.

“If all goes well, it could be finished by the fall,” he said.

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