Careless driver pops hydrant, busts SE water main

In a moment of inattention, this trucker did more than just disrupt traffic on SE Powell Blvd.; he shut down a neighborhood’s water service for a day. See why he’s really in hot water now‚

Portland Water Bureau officials Mark Behnke and David Shaff update Portland City Commissioner Randy Leonard on the progress of the water main repair on S.E. Powell Boulevard.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
The newest swimming hole in SE Portland suddenly appeared on July 17‚ but it wasn’t at a community center. It was in the middle of on SE 64th Ave., just feet north of SE Powell Blvd.

Police officials say 62-year-old David Kipp backed the flatbed trailer of his semi-truck into a fire hydrant at 10:45 am that morning, snapping it off.

Soon, water from the 8″ water main below the street started bubbling up, rupturing the pavement and eventually creating a large‚ and deep‚ hole filled with churning muddy water.

When we arrive to inspect the damage, crews have already shut off the water and drained the hole. We see Portland City Commissioner Randy Leonard, who’s in charge of the Portland Water Bureau.

“In Portland, our fire hydrants don’t spout like a geyser when they’re hit,” Leonard tells us. Pointing to the hydrant, laying its side, he adds, “They’re made to break off cleanly, and a valve then shuts off the water.”

Fire hydrants, like this one, are designed to snap off cleanly and shut off a below-ground water valve. The system worked; but the stress of the impact broke the cast iron water main below the street.

But not this time. In this case, Leonard says, the team of water bureau responders told him the shock of the hydrant being struck on the surface transferred down to the cast-iron water main below, rupturing it.

“I didn’t come out to supervise, I love to learn how things work,” Leonard states. “I’m here to let the crew know I appreciate what they do. They aren’t going home tonight; they’ll stay here until the water is turned back on.”

The commissioner comments that the water bureau crews remind him of firefighters. “They respond fast, they are well trained to deal with these emergencies, and they are well equipped. They work under some really unpleasant conditions, to get the job done; and, they stay on the job, working continuously, until water service is restored.”

This Portland Water Bureau crew works into the night to repair the broken water main on Powell Boulevard caused by a careless driver clipping a fire hydrant.

More than the inconvenience this incident caused for the 29,000 motorists who drive on SE Powell Boulevard every day, and for the neighborhood that went without water for a day, the full financial consequences of this driver’s inattention are still being tallied up.

In addition to the ticket for “Careless Driving”, Leonard says the city will be sending the water main repair invoice to Kipp’s insurance company. “It’s going to be expensive, but the citizens shouldn’t be stuck with the bill.”

© 2007 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News Service

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