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Water woes in Blue River

Community supply pipes are being "discovered" as town moves to rebuild

BLUE RIVER: The Holiday Farm Fire of 2020 removed all traces of fences and other unofficial landmarks commonly used to mark property boundaries. That caused Lane County to launch a retracement survey in "downtown" Blue River to relocate section corners, quarter-section corners, and one-sixteenth corners - all determined to be vital to the reestablishing property boundary lines.

However, determining the location of underground water lines "can be difficult" because they often don't have a tracking wire, according to the operations manager at the Lane Electric Cooperative (LEC). That proved to be the case last Monday when a contractor working for the utility broke into a water line near the junction of Hwy. 126 and McKenzie Street.

April Matson, LEC's public relations manager, said the contractors that work for the utility are all licensed and "handle issues like this independently, and we do not get billed."

That's now a point of contention between the Blue River Water District and McKenzie Valley Wellness (MVW), the non-profit that is building a new medical clinic in Blue River.

On November 27th, excavators working on a new septic system for the clinic broke into an old water main in an area where a public street had been located decades ago. The break was quickly repaired but who was to blame hasn't yet been determined.

The MVW board claims when they did a title search of the property they found no easement for the water line.

In addition, the contractors say they checked with the Oregon Utility Notification Center (OUNC) before digging and weren't warned of an underground pipe in that area.

While the water district isn't subject to the OUNC's authority they are subject to state and federal laws that regulate the requirements for a utility to provide locates for digging parties.

Because there's a possibility of litigation members of the Blue River Water Board have declined to comment. They do agree "that the best process for any person looking to dig on a piece of property would be to contact the local utilities in your area and contact 811," (which is the number for OUNC).

Other issues, besides cutting off water to other area residents and businesses, damaging a water line can involve some safety concerns.

Built in the dam building era when Cougar and Blue River dams were constructed, the Blue River Water District's water lines appear to be made from asbestos-containing material (acb).

A concern with asbestos involves material that is "friable," which when dry, can easily be crumbled or powdered by hand. When that happens, there's a higher risk of releasing asbestos fibers into the air, where they can be inhaled and cause health issues. In contrast, non-friable asbestos materials are more tightly bound and aren't easily released. However, acb's can become friable if they are damaged or disturbed by cutting or sanding.

As this edition was going to press, there was a report of a new water line break that had occurred around 11 a.m. on Tuesday. No details were available, other than that the break was related to activity occurring in between the sites of the new clinic and the Upper McKenzie Fire District's new Blue River Fire Station, also under construction.


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