Parish works to determine if damaged water line was properly marked (determining who is liable)

Published 12:13 am Saturday, September 1, 2018

LAPLACE — Water fountains were blocked off at Emily C. Watkins Elementary School this week in accordance with a water boil advisory in LaPlace, the result of a major water line repair.

Parish officials were informed at 5 p.m. Monday that Coastal Drilling and Utility Services, a Verizon Wireless contractor, damaged the main water line and piping at the intersection of Cardinal Street and Highway 628, according to communications director Baileigh Helm.

Water was shut off to approximately 17,000 LaPlace residents at 10 p.m. Tuesday night and returned Wednesday morning at approximately 5:20 a.m.

Emily C. Watkins secretary Nikki Weber said students were supplied with bottled water to avoid the risk of contamination.

A professional development late check-in day prevented the school from major impact, she said.

“The kids received bagged lunches, which was already arranged, so there was no cooking,” Weber said, adding cafeteria staff would have boiled water for all subsequent meals as long as the advisory remained in effect.

Helm said she visited a LaPlace McDonald’s and other local restaurants Wednesday to ensure staff members took proper precautions with icemakers and utilized two-liter bottles in lieu of fountain drink machines.

The advisory was lifted Thursday morning.

While all of LaPlace was impacted by the overnight outage, scheduled to avoid peak water use periods, not all residents experienced issues.

Mary Locke of Fagot Loop said she didn’t notice any changes in water pressure before the planned outage.

“It didn’t bother me at all,” Locke said. “They told me the water would be out at 10 p.m. and on by 6 a.m. I didn’t expect it to be back on in the morning but, sure enough, it was.”

Yvette Minor said the aftermath of the water outage creates an inconvenience to locals.

She described the parish water system as a “constant problem,” evidenced by the lack of maintenance to the property surrounding the loud and smelly water pump near her West Fifth Street home.

“We had no water overnight, and now we have to boil water just to brush our teeth and can’t even use water to make ice for days,” Minor said this week.

Minor said St. John the Baptist Parish should supply bottled water to residents in cases where the tap water is unsafe for cooking or consumption, adding the poor water quality has become a standard forcing her and others to purchase bottles.

“Charge the bottled water to the company that busted the line,” Minor said.

According to Helm, Parish administration was not aware that Coastal Drilling and Utility Services were running lines for Verizon Wireless until the water system damage was reported.

“It’s not required for someone to let us know they are working in the Parish, but we like to be aware of the work so we can inform residents,” Helm said.

“We didn’t know they were there until we got the call that the contractor had bored through the line.”

The ruptured line and damaged piping called for an extensive repair, Helm said. Parts had to be ordered, and the DOTD had to grant permission for Parish workers to respond because the damage occurred on a state highway.

Whereas most leaks can be fixed within a couple of hours, the response for the ruptured line saw crews working from Monday evening to Wednesday morning, Helm said.

Cost of the repair is being calculated.

Coastal Drilling and Utility Services will be held responsible for payment if liability is determined, Helm said.

“Normally, that involves determining whether the line was marked,” Helm said.

“If the line was marked and they still hit it, they are liable because we took the precaution to mark the line. Those are ongoing discussions to determine who will pay for the damage.”

As of press time Friday morning, Parish officials had not determined if the line was marked.

Helm said the utilities department would assist residents by adjusting water bills wherever necessary if the water line damage impacts the next billing cycle.

For more information, call 985-652-9569.