Bridge, water line hold water

By Thomas Wilson
star staff 

  A dilapidated bridge crossing the Doe River and supporting a water line that supplies the city of Elizabethton with 30 percent of its potable water withstood heavy rainfall last week that swelled the river's size and speed.
  The city's planning department chief hopes the bridge can weather a bit more weather until the water line is relocated.
  "We think it will hold up until it gets repaired," said David Ornduff, city director of planning and development.
  Encased in a concrete shell, the water transmission line connecting the Hampton spring source to the city water system extends 240 feet across the bridge on the abandoned U.S. Highway 19-E. The bridge has suffered major decay in recent years.
  Rainfall pounded the western counties of North Carolina on Thursday night and Friday morning as remnants of Hurricane Ivan rolled through Southern Appalachia, swelling the Doe River to its highest point since localized flooding occurred in November 2003.
  The city began the process of replacing the water line last year when the bridge's instability became an issue. An assessment conducted in June 2002 by engineers of the J.R. Wauford & Company found the bridge had rapidly deteriorated. The evaluation found a 46-foot portion of the bridge's western wall and a bridge deck had fallen into the river. The bridge surface near the western wall chipped away and is partially blocked with metal fencing.
  Ornduff said engineers with Wauford were in town on Monday but did not inspect the bridge for structural damage from the river's high water.
  He said officials with the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation are expected to hold a hearing on Thursday to consider granting the city an Aquatic Resources Alteration Permit (ARAP) for the project. The ARAP permit is required whenever an entity enters a state regulated wetland.
  Following a multiphase evaluation of the bridge, Wauford representatives recommended relocating the line via a "trench-cut" placement in the Doe River. The project's cost was estimated at $330,000.
  The company's assessment stated that the city could not adequately supply its 10,500 customers with potable water if the water line was disrupted by the continued decay or collapse of the bridge. That scenario was a catalyst in the city's approval for an "imminent threat" grant awarded by the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development earlier this year to fund relocation of the water transmission line. The grant provides $292,000 toward the line replacement project with the city funding the remainder.
  Previously, the water line had been located in the riverbed, but was destroyed during the county's catastrophic flooding in January of 1998. That transmission line had been supplying water from Hampton since the early 1920s. After the 1998 flood, the city constructed the existing water line across the bridge to restore water service to city customers.
  Wauford is handling the engineering work for the line relocation including securing the ARAP. If the permit is granted, Ornduff said the city could immediately advertise for bids to replace the water line. Despite the potentially critical nature of the water line's stability, Ornduff said the project would not likely to be completed until early 2005.
  "If we have some fairly decent dry weather," said Ornduff, "I think the contractors can get in there and do it pretty fast."