A construction worker cleans Main Street on Wednesday as crews work to replace and repair the water line on Main Street in Waterville. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

WATERVILLE — A $2.7 million Kennebec Water District project to replace about a mile of old, cast-iron water pipe in downtown Waterville hit a snag Thursday when a valve failed near Main and Silver streets, forcing the district to shut water off to three restaurants for a few hours.

The overall project to replace the pipes laid over 100 years ago with cement-lined iron pipes started April 20 near the Lockwood Hotel being built at the south end of Main Street, and pipe is being laid to where Main Street hits College Avenue.

A valve on a water line failed near the intersection of Main and Silver streets Wednesday in downtown Waterville, flooding Main Street and forcing the Kennebec Water District to shut off water to three restaurants on Silver Street for a few hours. Contributed photo

Roger Crouse, general manager of the water district, said Saturday that Ranger Construction of Fairfield is making good progress on the excavation and main replacement and the work is slightly ahead of schedule. The installation on Main Street is expected to be completed toward the end of next week and then the main has to be tied to businesses before work continues on other streets including Temple, Appleton, Deeb and Hathaway, he said.

“We’ve been very pleased with the work Ranger has done and we know it’s a big disruption to businesses on Main Street, and to traffic flow,” Crouse said. “Ranger has been very thoughtful and conscientious in their work.”

At around 3 p.m. Thursday as workers were trying to connect the new Main Street water main with a pipe on Silver Street, a valve broke loose where they had excavated, Crouse said. Two men were in the trench at the time, but were not injured, he said.

“Ranger could not have known that that would happen,” he said. “It was quite a dangerous situation and it was no fault of the contractor. It was just that a valve failed. The valve connection failed, more specifically. Ranger did a great job putting a cap on that.”

Water started flowing down the street but did not go into the outdoor dining area on Silver Street, according to Crouse. However, water had to be closed off to Silver Street Tavern, The Last Unicorn and Cancun Mexican Restaurant, which closed their doors. Other businesses on Silver Street are on a different system so their water was not shut off.  The water was restored by 7 or 7:30 Thursday night, Crouse said. The three businesses remained closed Thursday evening, Crouse said.

Concerned about whether the water in the pipe could be contaminated, the water district asked Northeast Laboratories Services in Winslow to test it and ordered those three restaurants to boil their water as a precaution. The test results came back clear and the boil order was lifted around 2:30 p.m. Friday, Crouse said. Other businesses along Main Street were without water until about 7:30 p.m. but were not issued a boil order, he said.

The connection of the Main Street pipe to the one on Silver Street still has to be made and will require water to be shut down for a brief period of time, according to Crouse who said a time for that had not been set.

A construction worker cleans Main Street as crews work to replace and repair the water line on Wednesday in Waterville. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

“We’ll let businesses know before that happens,” he said.

Crouse said he anticipates the water main installation project will be done at the end of October. The new pipes are expected to last another 100 years, he said.

“They’re just moving forward,” Crouse said of Ranger. “We appreciate everyone’s patience in the community as we replace those pipes and seek to make it better for the next 100 years for the community. It is disruptive and we know people are feeling some pain from this. It can be very challenging. As far as the water infrastructure, it’s going to be in fantastic shape here by the end of the summer.”

Construction workers clean Main Street on Wednesday as crews work to repair the water line. Contributed photo

The city in 2021 plans to launch a  traffic project downtown that is expected to cost more than $9 million. The work is possible with a  $7.37 million federal BUILD grant the city received to change the traffic patterns downtown from one-way to two-way, improve intersections, update sidewalks, do plantings, install benches and perform other work intended to help revitalize downtown Waterville.

The water district’s current main replacement work is being funded through a $700,000 grant from the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund and a loan with a 1% interest rate. The water district is able to do the work without having to increase customer rates, according to Crouse.

The project was designed by Wright-Pierce, a Topsham engineering firm that is administering and inspecting the work.

The Kennebec Water District serves residential and commercial customers in Waterville, Winslow, Fairfield, Benton and Vassalboro, with water piped from China Lake.

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