Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2008

Luxmanor residents worry watermain could be unsafe

WSSC officials say pipe is not a danger

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Residents of the Luxmanor neighborhood in North Bethesda are nervous about the safety of an aging water main running through their neighborhood, but water officials say the pipe is safe.

The water main in question runs immediately under Tilden Lane, off Old Georgetown Road, in North Bethesda.

Work on the 40-year-old pipe began earlier this summer, according to Mike McGill, a Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission spokesman, and concluded Aug. 8, when water again began flowing through the 72-inch main.

During the maintenance of the water main, which included replacing one section of pipe and relining 10 other sections, residents worried over the safety of the pressurized pipe.

Neighbors wrote letters to Montgomery County Councilman Roger Berliner (D-Dist. 1) of Potomac expressing their concern, and contacted WSSC officials, asking them not to refill the main.

"If this pipe were to rupture on Tilden Lane it would turn us into the Grand Canyon," said Tom McLachlen, a neighbor. "…it's only a few feet under the ground, and we've got all this heavy traffic on the road."

Calls to Berliner's office were not returned.

The maintenance work was part of an inspection of 6.4 miles of the pre-stressed concrete cylinder pipe that stretches from near Tilden Lane to past Georgia Avenue in Silver Spring. At points the 72-inch main narrows to 66 inches, McGill said.

As for the safety of the pipe, McGill said it's unquestioned.

"We would not put the line back into service if we felt it was a hazard to the community," he said. "Absolutely not."

McGill said during the replacement of the pipe section under Tilden Lane, acoustic fiber optic monitoring was added to the main, a safety measure that would signal WSSC if even one wire embedded in the main breaks. He said it would take dozens of wires breaking to burst the pipe.

What concerned neighbors were the similarities between the main under Tilden Lane and the main that ruptured in Derwood June 15, spilling 100 million gallons of water. McLachlen noted that the Derwood main was smaller and younger than the main in his neighborhood. According to McGill, the pipes are made of similar materials.

McLachlen questioned the need for the pipe in Luxmanor.

"It was shut down and the system was still operating," he said, "so that proves they don't need it."

Paula Bienenfeld, president of the Luxmanor Citizens Association, also sent a letter to the County Council outlining her concerns. Bienenfeld said she and other members of the association met with WSSC officials, but questions were still unanswered. Safety was also her number one concern.

"These pipes would not be allowed to be located so near to residences and so close to the surface," if they were built today, she said in an e-mail to The Gazette.