Another setback for Bristol County's broken pipeline

German company now refuses to sell ‘Primus’ solution to fix Bristol County’s water lifeline

By Scott Pickering
Posted 7/11/19

Two weeks ago, the Bristol County Water Authority (BCWA) had a plan to fix its leaking lifeline. Now it’s back to the drawing board.

A German company that manufactures a unique product …

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Another setback for Bristol County's broken pipeline

German company now refuses to sell ‘Primus’ solution to fix Bristol County’s water lifeline

Posted

Two weeks ago, the Bristol County Water Authority (BCWA) had a plan to fix its leaking lifeline. Now it’s back to the drawing board.

A German company that manufactures a unique product designed to slip inside of old or broken utility pipes has decided it will not sell its product to the water authority. Raedlinger Primus Inc. had verbally agreed to sell one of the longest continuous runs of its “Primus Line” ever produced — 5,000 feet — to the BCWA, as a solution to fix a massive pipeline that is leaking 430,000 gallons of drinking water per day deep under the Providence River.

The cross-bay pipeline, which has been leaking from at least two holes since early April, is buried in bedrock 160 feet under the river. After weeks of analyzing and researching, the water authority and its partners at Beta Engineering had decided the Primus solution was the easiest, quickest and most economic solution to seal the broken pipe.

The three-layer product, with Kevlar at its core, is flexible tubing that unfolds from a spool and can be pulled through a utility line — picture a garden hose being pulled through a steel pipe. The Primus manufacturers have a 5,000-foot spool ready to ship and initially agreed to sell to the BCWA.

But water authority Executive Director Pam Marchand announced Monday afternoon that Primus withdrew its offer. She was diplomatic but clearly frustrated when making the announcement.

“It’s very disappointing,” she said.

According to Ms. Marchand, the German company decided the BCWA plan was too risky. Because their product has a soft outer core and it must pass through more than 100 steel pipe welds on its 4,500-foot traverse from East Providence to the Providence side of the river, there is risk it could be torn on any jagged or sharp welds in the steel. They didn’t want to take the risk that the Primus line would be compromised and reflect poorly on their product and their reputation.

The Primus line has been used around the world for water, sewer and gas lines, but not in stretches this long.

Ms. Marchand said BCWA was planning to take precautions to ensure a smooth passage for the Primus line, including a “soft sponge” test, where they literally shoot through a large sponge that fills the diameter of the pipe to see if it suffers any damages, but the German company was unwilling to go forward.

Back to PVC

Ms. Marchand said the BCWA is moving forward with the next-best plan, which is slip-lining the broken steel pipe with PVC pipes. This option was considered but initially rejected for four key reasons:

1. It is a lot more labor-intensive, as it requires an enormous effort to weld together 4,500 feet of PVC pipes and will require weeks to install vs. days.

2. It requires a much larger staging area, as nearly 5,000 feet of pipes must be delivered, laid end to end and welded together in enormous sections.

3. It is more expensive than the estimated $2 million Primus option (largely because of the added labor costs).

4. It is far more difficult, as the new pipe must navigate two separate 45-degree bends as it passes from one side of the river to the other.

To contend with this last issue, crews will face a tough challenge. They will have to dig down to reach the two, 45-degree bends in the pipe — one on each side of the bay. When those sections are exposed, some 15 to 18 feet underground, crews will cut off the water supply to the pipeline (switching all of Bristol County to an undersized emergency water supply from East Providence), cut open the old steel pipe in both locations, insert the PVC pipes through the openings, weld everything together, test the new PVC line, and then seal everything up and make the switch permanently.

Ms. Marchand estimates the entire installation process, from beginning to end, will take four to six weeks, and they don’t plan to start until the fall, after peak season for water demand. Until then, the cross-bay pipeline will continue leaking about 430,000 gallons per day. Ms. Marchand said the good news is that the leak has not gotten any worse in months, so the broken pipeline, which could easily pump the region’s peak demand of 4 million gallons per day when healthy, seems to be holding steady.

Challenging as the new PVC plan sounds, Ms. Marchand is confident.

“The PVC will work,” she said, “it’s just going to take a lot more effort.”

One of the next things on the water authority’s to-do list is to contact the owners and/or directors of the Silver Spring golf course in East Providence, which is home to the enormous staging and welding area that the water authority will be looking to create this fall.

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Scott Pickering

Scott Pickering has been on the East Bay Newspapers team for more than two decades, since starting as a reporter for the Sakonnet Times. He's been editor of most of the papers, was Managing Editor of all the papers for many years, and became General Manager in 2012. Today he can be found posting to EastBayRI.com, steering news coverage, writing editorials, talking to readers, working with the sales team, collaborating on design, or helping do whatever it takes to get the papers out the door. Reach him at spickering@eastbaynewspapers.com.