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Thursday, December 29, 2011

Pipe Bursts, Floods Museum

A broken water main in downtown Tooele this morning resulted in the flooding of the Sons of Utah Pioneers Museum, potentially damaging artifacts and equipment stored in the basement.

The main, running along Garden Street, broke near the street’s intersection with Vine Street, and was reported at about 6 a.m. A crew from Tooele City’s Public Works Department was on scene by 6:20, according to Tom McKay, a supervisor with the department. McKay said breaks in the old cast iron water pipes around town, which he estimates to have been laid in the 1950s, are not uncommon.

“It’s old cast iron line. They crack,” he said. “There’s no give to it, so if there’s any movement in the earth it will just crack.”

That movement seems to be especially pronounced in the contraction of earth in early winter and subsequent expansion in early spring, he said, when these incidents typically happen.

“It’s common. It’s not a freak occurrence,” he said. “That’s why we do so many pipe replacements.”

However, McKay said, what is not common is for the water gushing forth to flood nearby buildings, such as the Pioneer Museum complex, which is located on the northwestern corner of Garden and Vine streets.

“Usually it would have come out here and the gutter would have taken it,” he said.

A steady flow of water did course down the gutter until the water was shut off a little after 9 for about an hour to facilitate repairs. McKay said the water would have been shut off sooner but the valve was corroded and the crew had to dig into the street to replace the valve and shut the water off. However, a pool also quickly grew in the parking lot just north of the museum, collecting in low spots on the concrete and filling the staircase to the basement of the building.

Jim Bevan, chairman of the museum’s board of directors, said he wasn’t notified of the leak and possible flooding until about 10 a.m., and arrived at the museum minutes later. The basement of the museum was coated with mud and water had pooled in low spots of the tile and sopping-wet carpet. From the waterline on a bookcase holding volumes owned by the Tooele County Historical Society, he estimates about a foot of water collected at its highest point.

The museum has had flooding in the past, from clogged gutters not able to handle a heavy storm or from incorrectly finished work near the museum, he said, but this time is different.

“This one is catastrophic,” he said.

How much damage was caused to artifacts, tools or appliances stored in the basement, such as the furnace, is impossible to tally until the area is cleaned up.

“We won’t know,” he said. “We’ll just have to suck up the water. I’ll just have to get some men up here to help me.”

The Daughters of the Utah Pioneers Museum, which is connected to the SUP museum, was not damaged, though some things belonging to the DUP, including a piano, may have been damaged. Katherine Memmott, director of the DUP museum, said it was difficult seeing the mud and water still pooled on the floor of the neighboring building.

“It’s heartbreaking to see all this,” she said.

The flowing water collected in parking lots in the area and the freezing temperatures quickly turned it to ice. However, crews from Tooele City salted the recently formed ice — an act Scott Dunn, publisher of the Transcript-Bulletin, commended.

“Our parking lot is full of ice, but the city responded quite well and put salt right down, so everything should be fine,” Dunn said.

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