No time for 2018 resolutions in Pelican Rapids; as New Year water main break caused one of worst public works catastrophes in history of the city

The broken water line was discovered Saturday afternoon, Jan. 6, and repaired quickly. The photo above shows the metal “collar” that was wrapped around the pipe to repair the break.
PHOTO BY CJ HOLL

A happy new year it was not for Pelican Rapids city crews and businesses surrounding the Highway 59 intersection by Pelican Drug.

Freezing temperatures caused a main water line break; and flooded the drainage system.

An estimated 250,000 gallons of treated water gushed out of the broken main, starting on about January 1.

City crews worked nearly around the clock from New Year’s Day through the week. Tankers pumped overflow water and sewage and transferred it to the city wastewater treatment facility.

“The city of Pelican Rapids has never experienced anything like this before,” said Don Solga, city administrator.

Residents and business owners were asked to conserve water, to prevent more fluid from entering the wastewater lines.

“The ground froze, it shifted, and busted the pipe,” said Solga, as a simplified explanation. “Minnesota cold is terrible on infrastructure.”

Initially, it was unknown whether sewer or water lines had broken, but by Thursday the city narrowed in on the Highway 59 and 108 East intersection, where it was believed an 8 inch main water line had broken. The flowing water flooded the sewer and stormwater drainage system and was overflowing beneath the surface –including into downtown businesses.

In simple terms, the broken main flooded the city’s drainage system. The gushing flood stirred up sediment–clogging sewer lines and stormwater drainage systems–possibly causing damages that could remain unknown indefinitely.

The lower level of several businesses sustained water damage, including Wells Fargo bank, Pelican Drug, Erickson Insurance, Riverside and the Dawo Halal African Store. About three inches of water entered the lower level of Erickson Insurance, but only dated files were damaged, and some sheetrock needed to be replaced. It was a similar situation in the lower level of Wells Fargo building.

Rapids Brake and Alignment, Pelican Rapids Press and other businesses were without water at various times during the repairs.

Though it was uncertain initially, the city narrowed in on a water main break at the main intersection, in front of Pelican Drug.

The break was discovered January 1, with the first report of water coming into the Dawo store.

For pharmacist Don Perrin, the shock came January 2, when he entered his Pelican Drug store and heard what he thought was a fan running in the lower level.

“It was odd–because we don’t have fans running this time of year,” said Perrin, who discovered about four

inches of water on the floor.

The mysterious sound was water gushing from an old toilet connection. The stool had been removed years ago, and the line was covered with a plug. The back-pressure of water had enough force to blow out the plug, said Perrin.

After getting the drug store pumped out, Perrin said that by Thursday there was some slight seepage in his lower level.

Pumper trucks were stationed at downtown locations to take up the flowing water, which was then transported to the wastewater treatment plants and released into the lagoons. Super Septic and Nature’s Pumping were among the pumping contractors through the emergency. Egge Construction worked throughout the course of events, including the excavation and repair on Highway 59 Main Street.

For the first two days of the crisis, the city concentrated on West Mill. Backhoes tore into the blacktop and concrete only to find that the sewer lines were largely intact. Five penetrations were completed near the library and African store.

Calls for conservation of water went out city-wide.