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Pipeline repairs could cost $125,000

(ran SS edition of METRO & STATE)

Preliminary estimates of the cost to repair the giant water main that delivers more than half of Pinellas County's drinking water from Pasco County is at least $125,000. It would have been more if the rupture hadn't been fixed so quickly.

Taxpayers might not have to pay the entire bill, however.

The 84-inch transmission line ruptured Thursday afternoon at a point 1 mile east of the intersection of Gunn Highway and State Road 54 in Pasco County. It resumed operations on Saturday, 52 hours after the break was discovered. The main delivers a daily average of 50-million to 60-million gallons of water to Pinellas and Pasco counties.

"We don't know yet what the final bottom line will be," said Michelle Klase, spokeswoman for the West Coast Regional Water Supply Authority, which serves more than 1.8-million customers in Pinellas, Hillsborough and Pasco counties. "The figure of $125,000 doesn't include the cost of the replacement pipes."

Some of the costs might be reimbursed through the $23.9-million settlement in January of a lawsuit that alleged the pipeline was faulty and prone to failure. This is its third major rupture.

"The cost of the replacement pipe and some of the costs of labor might be reimbursable, but it is something the lawyers are still looking at," Klase said.

The costs would have been higher had it taken three to four days to repair the rupture, as originally estimated.

"We were fortunate that it broke in a place, in a field, where we could get to it quickly," Klase said.

About 5-million gallons of water were lost before the valve controlling the flow could be closed.

A 60-inch main pipeline owned by Pinellas County was found prone to failure in 1994 after four ruptures. The Denver-based engineering firm, CH2M Hill, was found liable in both cases.

If West Coast Regional Water Supply Authority succeeds in reorganizing into a utility that owns almost all water facilities in the region, it will face the daunting and expensive task of determining where the weak points are in all of its system's mains and repairing them, a best-guess scenario. Water authority officials have expressed concern that additional ruptures are imminent.