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Residents, without water at home, offered to shoulder pipeline repair work

The ownership of the lines feeding water under Cole’s Creek Road to the homes there is in some question. While normally the cistern and pipelines would all be considered one system, some of the residents say they had, and were willing to continue, assuming ownership of the pipeline under an agreement with the cistern owner, and the marking and repair responsibilities it would entail.

Sheila Peltier’s husband, Jared, says he showed the excavators where the water line ran when he saw them beginning to work. He also said he encountered workers fixing the pipe another day, who said they had already spent $300 on the repair. He said he offered to help, but the workers there declined.

“We’ve been taking care of his waterline ever since we lived here, 36 years,” Jared said.

He said the road had been repaired two other times during that time span.

“We never had a problem repairing the line with the other two contractors,” he said.

Now that the road has been paved, Jared says there is no going back to the old system, even if they wanted to.

“I think they’d get kind of mad if I start jackhammering up their blacktop and start looking for waterline to start repairing them,” Jared said.

Under normal circumstances, excavating companies and others intending to dig into the ground in Michigan go through the MISS DIG 811 notification system to make sure underground utilities get located and marked by their owners.

“72 [business] hours before excavating, they need to place a locate request with MISS DIG, then we get that information and we transmit it to all the facility owners in the area of the excavation,” Bruce Campbell, CEO of MISS DIG System, said.

The facility owners, whether it be electric, sewage, water, gas or cable, then visit the site to locate and mark their own underground cables and pipes.

To keep track of what facility owners need to be contacted, MISS DIG 811 keeps files from registered facilities, which describe the area where they have pipes and lines. These can be laid out on a map as a polygon. When excavators contact MISS DIG 811, they share a polygon describing their work area. MISS DIG 811 then contacts any facilities with overlapping polygons to notify them of the need to mark that area.

The MISS DIG 811 system was originally established in 1970 and signed in law in 1974. Underground facilities older than that, called “legacy systems,” are not always in MISS DIG 881’s records. This was the case for the Cole’s Creek Road residents’ water system, which local residents say is from the early 20th century.

“I’m sure there’s more systems out there under the radar, especially if they’re legacy systems that have been around for a long time,” Campbell said.

Campbell said that generally, legacy systems will go unnoticed until something happens – an excavator, construction company, or homeowner strikes or damages the pipe in some way. At that point, MISS DIG 811 is often contacted by someone involved, and they’ll inform the facility owner of their responsibilities under the law. 

Utility owners are responsible for repairs to their own systems within the road right-of-way, according to Houghton County Road Engineer Kevin Harju.

Meanwhile, the Peltiers’ new well has not even begun to be dug yet.

“I’m hoping next week, but we haven’t heard anything,” Sheila said.

Sheila is frustrated that nobody seems to be responsible, and thinks something could have been worked out between the homeowners, contractor, and government to supply the homes with water while they changed over to wells.

“I certainly don’t expect anybody to pay for a well that we were eventually going to have to dig anyway,” she said. “But I do expect the people responsible to make sure that we have water in the interim.”

The Peltiers also had to convert their radiant heat system into a closed-loop last week, because it wouldn’t operate without a working waterline otherwise.

Chris Woodry’s COVID-19 fears have been realized, too. He and his girlfriend, who works in healthcare, tested positive for COVID-19 early last week. He’s keeping himself quarantined, but is still working, too.

“I’m on a solo job site and the guys doorbell ditch anything that I need,” he said.

At home, they have been able to fill water bottles and shower at a friend’s empty house, but that will only last through the end of this week. They made other changes to minimize how much water they need for washing dishes, too.

“We switched almost entirely to paper and plastic plates and forks and spoons and whatnot,” Woodry said.

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