HAMLET — If the Little Dutch Boy were trying to stanch Hamlet’s problem with water leaks, he’d come up a few fingers short. The city has experienced at least two or three leaks a week for the past two months, Hamlet Public Works Director Billy Stubbs estimated Monday.
The spurt of new problems not only keeps city workers hopping, it means they can’t fix recurring problems like those on Lillians Lane themselves: Even though the city has set aside the money for that project, it doesn’t have the workers and must bid out the contract.
“We don’t have the employees or the time to do it,” Stubbs said of Lillians Lane, which has experienced recurring difficulties with its decades-old pipes.
“We’re dealing with so many pipe breaks right now” that Stubbs has had to augment his seven-man water crew with “a couple of limb and garbage guys.”
Earlier this month, the city council set aside a one-time allocation of as much as $56,000 to overhaul the water pipes along Lillians Lane, not just patch them. On Monday, the city advertised informally for bids, which it will open Dec. 7. Work should begin soon after, depending on the winning contractor’s schedule, City Manager Jonathan Blanton said Monday.
That will be good news for neighbors who have drunk only bottled water for the past couple of years or complained of gritty bathwater coming from their taps.
Hamlet has a long history of water-pipe woes, partly because private contractors built many of Hamlet’s older neighborhoods and left them to the city for maintenance. Some such areas were built with substandard materials and welcomed into the city without question or inspection, among them Lillians Lane.
Other piping is just old.
On Monday alone, the city was working to repair three leaks and waiting for clearance from power utilities in order to clear up three more. Some leaks or ruptures can take a full day to repair; others take more time.
“It’s all over town — East Rockingham, too,” said Stubbs. Some residents of East Rockingham are Hamlet water customers and Rockingham sewer customers.
Early this year, planners for the Lumber River Council of Governments, a regional planning and service agency representing 36 local governments in eastern North Carolina, told Hamlet officials they would need to come up with $40 million to update the city’s water and wastewater infrastructure. It said half of that would need to be spent in “the short term.”
“Given the tightness of our budget, … do you take out a $40 million loan to do it all at the same time?” Blanton asked, rhetorically. “Of course not.”
As for piecemeal repairs …
“It’s just a terrible predicament,” he added. “As soon as you start jerking and tearing and putting in new pipes, who’s to say (they’re) going to be compatible?
“We’re in a hurry-up-and wait situation,” he said — repairing problems as they occur and as the budget can handle them.”
Reach Christine Carroll at 910-817-2673 or firstname.lastname@example.org.