Weott waterline fix nears completion; Avenue of Giants open to two-lane traffic

After literally running into a snag (or possibly boulders), the Weott Community Services District's (WCSD) contractor resumed drilling under the South Fork Eel River on Monday, Jan. 6, to replace the district's badly leaking main line, which brings raw water to the town from a source high on Grasshopper Peak.

The contractor, Apex Drilling of Portland, OR, originally expected to complete replacement of the line by Friday, Dec. 20, but after successfully drilling horizontally under the river for 450 feet, the equipment encountered an unseen and impenetrable obstacle.

Although no one can tell for certain what the obstacle is, it is most likely to be either a downed redwood tree or a boulder field that once lay on the surface of the river bed but has since been buried by sediment, said Christine Conn, general manager of WCSD.

The contractors are using a recently developed, environmentally safer method called horizontal direction to install a new pipe close to the old, damaged one.

The holiday season caused further delays, as Apex closes for two weeks for Christmas and New Year's Day, so the crews returned to Oregon and then resumed work in Weott last Monday.

Armed with a new drill head, this time the crews will drill around the obstacle, Conn explained.

After the new pipe is installed, WCSD operators will tie it in with existing lines, flush it, test it, and then it will be ready to bring water to the treatment plant on the east side of the river. Conn expects this to happen within one week after Apex has completed its work.

"With luck, if all goes well," everything will be done by this Friday, Jan. 17, Conn said.

The good news is that the delay and additional work will not increase the cost of the project for WCSD. "That was the first question I asked," said Conn.

WCSD received a full grant of $234,000 from the California Department of Health - Drinking Water Division but had a difficult time finding a qualified bidder able to do the job for that amount.

More good news is that the Avenue of the Giants, which was closed between Myers Flat and Weott during the first weeks of December, remains open to two-way traffic with only "Roadwork Ahead" signs to remind drivers to slow down and be more careful on this stretch.

At WCSD's request, the county board of supervisors officially declared an emergency in Weott last summer, after a series of events triggered by the theft of 20,000 gallons of water from district storage tanks forced operators to increase pressure in the aging system.

Supervisors extended the declaration to Dec. 31, 2013, but WCSD will probably ask for a further extension to the end of January, Conn said.

Weott residents have been on mandatory water conservation since the problem began last July. Once again, Conn praised the community for its cooperation. "People have been awesome; they've gone above and beyond. I can't say enough good things about them," she said.