The City of Plaquemine had several problems during last week’s rare sub-freezing temperatures, but nothing it hasn’t dealt with before and nothing it didn’t do well handling last week.
Two major problems the city faced during the deep freeze were icy roads and broken pipes, both on public and private properties.
“When the freezing rain and snow hits here, the first thing that gives us trouble is the Plaquemine bridge over Bayou Plaquemine,” said Mayor Ed Reeves, who said city employees were prepared for the possibility of the problem.
“In anticipation of that, we had already loaded trucks with sand so we were ready for it,” he continued. “We were just waiting on the call.”
Sure enough, the call came and city Public Works employees spread the sand and diverted any issues residents and those passing the city might have had getting across the bayou.
“Then we started getting complaints that the railroad crossings were icing over, so we started putting sand out there,” Reeves said.
A more complicated issue for the city was its water supply.
“Our biggest concern during the time the temperature was below freezing was our water,” Reeves said. “Our director of utilities, Frank Mott, worked his behind off.”
“He can monitor the entire water system on his computer,” the mayor continued. “We usually keep one water tower blocked off from the system, but because of the possibility of a water crisis, we plugged it back into the system.”
With many residents letting water drip from faucets throughout their houses to keep their pipes from freezing coupled with unprotected pipes on public properties and empty, unused buildings, the city was eventually put in the position of having to warn residents to conserve their water usage.
“During the hard freezes, the Plaquemine Water Department had more than 70 calls of busted pipes,” the city posted to its website and Facebook page. City employees responded, “turning water meters off to homes that had pipes burst after thawing and repairing leaks on the city side of meters.”
“The city managed to maintain water pressure throughout,” the notice continued. “…The city also had crews riding through residential ad other areas looking for potential leaks so that they could react fast to isolate a problem.”
“These proactive steps helped the city avoid any water disruption during extended freezes,” the website entry read.
“We were never in danger of having to issue a boil advisory because the water level in one of our towers would have to go below 15 percent of capacity,” Chief Administrative Officer Richard Alleman said. Water levels stayed well above 30 percent throughout the extreme cold.
“When it goes below 15 percent, you have to issue a boil advisory because of state requirements,” he said. “We were well above that but we were losing water so we had to find out where it was leaking from.”
Despite all of the city’s proactive measures, its water towers began losing volume when the temperature dropped below the freezing point.
Mott told Reeves, “We’ve got a leak somewhere.” “So we sent all the crews out to start looking under houses and on public properties to see if they could find any water leaking anywhere,” Reeves said.
The first leak was discovered at the Bayou Riverfront Park, where a two-inch fire suppressant water line had burst in the attic. Reeves said he contacted Barber Brothers Construction and “they got it fixed immediately.”
Later the same day, another leak was found at the waterfront park, another two-inch pipe that had burst. “That two-inch water pipe can drain a water tower, believe it or not,” Reeves said.
Another leak was located, eventually, at the now empty Piggly Wiggly building on La. 1 by the city’s water supervisor, Hollis Simpson, the mayor said. The old store had a busted pipe after the last hard freeze “that almost drained our water tower,” Reeves said.
Nothing was found to be amiss when Simpson made his first pass by the building but later water was “running under the door.” The same four-inch pipe that had broken during the last freeze event had busted again.
“Once we got that repaired, the water level started going back up,” Reeves said. He added Mott gets concerned about the city’s water supply when its water tanks go below 39 percent and they had dropped to 36 percent when the leak at the old Piggly Wiggly was discovered.
“All in all, we came out pretty good over the last three weeks, although it was touch and go for a while,” the mayor said. He credited Mott, Fire Chief Darren Ramirez and city employees for avoiding the possible crisis.
“Mott does a wonderful job and the rest of the crew did a really good job,” Reeves said. “We’ve got some of the best employees in the world.”