Water authority approves pipeline repair plan

By Scott Pickering
Posted 6/21/19

The Bristol County Water Authority has a plan to fix its leaking lifeline.

The water authority’s nine-person board of directors voted unanimously to notify a German company of its intention …

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Water authority approves pipeline repair plan


The Bristol County Water Authority has a plan to fix its leaking lifeline.

The water authority’s nine-person board of directors voted unanimously to notify a German company of its intention to buy a 5,000-foot stretch of flexible tubing, ship it to Rhode Island, and slip it inside the cross-bay pipeline that is leaking nearly 450,000 gallons of water daily.

The board of directors met Thursday afternoon and listened to a presentation from BETA Engineering about the various alternatives to fix or replace the broken steel pipe that rests 160 feet deep in bedrock beneath the Providence River. Though board members had a few questions about the engineers’ analysis, they ultimately followed the recommendation to buy the 5,000-foot roll of material known as “Primus Line,” which is a unique patented product manufactured by a German company, Raedlinger Primus Line Inc.

The Primus material is a very thin tube of multiple layers, with Kevlar fabric at its core. The Primus Line is designed for this very purpose, to slip inside of old or failing pipes to create a new, state-of-the-art pipe for water, gas, sewage or other utilities. Because it is one continuous role of material, it can be pulled through in one piece, with no need for welds or joints.

Board members passed around a few samples of the Primus material during their meeting on Thursday. The tube comes folded and collapsed on itself, and it springs open to its full tubular capacity when it is fully connected and the water is turned on.

BETA estimated this solution will cost the water authority $2 million, for the materials and labor.

On Thursday, the board authorized Chairman Allan Klepper to sign a commitment letter to buy the Primus Liner and move forward with purchase once the engineers sign off on a few more investigations to be sure this solution will work.

This is not the only solution the BETA team investigated. The Thursday presentation included three other options. All three involved inserting a new pipe inside of the old one. The first two options were PVC piping and HDPE (high-density polyethylene) piping. Both would be more expensive than the Primus solution because of the labor required to install them — an estimated three weeks of welding joints together as the 4,300-foot stretch of pipeline is installed.

A third option is a process called “swagelining,” where an HDPE pipe is pulled through and stretched to fit within the old one, then relaxed so it expands and fills the full diameter of the old pipe. The engineering team said this process is often used in the oil industry and it is highly effective, but it would cost about 10 times more than the Primus solution.

The water authority also likes the Primus solution because the material is so flexible — it can be installed quickly, and it can make the bends underneath the river — and because it is so thin — it will result in the largest final volume of water flowing through the cross-bay pipeline.

Eight weeks to ship it

The board expects the Primus spool will ship from Germany to here in about eight weeks. In the meantime, it will begin advertising for installation bids from qualified installers.

The 40-foot-long spool would be positioned at the Silver Spring golf course in East Providence. The installation team would first inspect the inside of the old pipe to see if there is a smooth path for the full 4,300-foot stretch (one jagged steel weld could compromise the whole thing); scrape off any imperfections if necessary; snake a line from Providence to East Providence; attach the line to the Primus spool; and pull the new Primus pipe back under the bay from East Providence to Providence.

Questions from the board

Before settling on this solution, board members had questions, the most challenging coming from Gina Macdonald of Bristol. Ms. Macdonald first criticized the initial cross-bay pipeline design 24 years ago. Frustrated by their inability to reach or repair the buried pipeline under the Providence River, she asked in general, “Why did you do this? … You need to be able to repair it. It’s construction 101.”

Director John Jannitto of Warren later said history doesn’t matter, “we gotta solve the problem now.”

Ms. Macdonald later asked about the usage and performance of the Primus product. A BETA engineer told her it’s been used all over the world, and there has never been a failure. Responding to questions about the tube getting scraped or damaged during installation, the engineer said, “this is not without risk,” to which board chairman Mr. Klepper replied, “But no one has a better idea.”

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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.