Water main leak on Hwy 65 leaves Exeter businesses and residents dry on Friday night and Saturday morning
By Paul Myers @PaulM_SGN
EXETER – Water has been the bane of Exeter’s existence in recent months, and things only got worse for some residents and businesses last Thursday and over the weekend. According to interim city manager Eric Frost, a water main under Highway 65, also known as Kaweah Avenue, near the Smith Food Mart gas station sprung a leak during construction.
On Thursday, June 28, West Valley Construction was brought in to fix the leak and turned off the necessary water pumps to place a patch on the pipe. Unfortunately residents and businesses in downtown were left with a trickle coming from their tap. Staci Welch of Exeter Coffee Company on Pine Street said their water pressure was low for about 15 minutes. However Sheri Forcum of the Exeter Whistle Stop Diner said that she was going to close down for the day.
New city manager Adam Ennis announced to residents online and via automated calling services that the main would need to undergo a much longer fix on Friday night into early Saturday morning. For residents and businesses that meant the entire water system was shut down and a boiling water notice was issued for all of Saturday until water testing showed the water was safe to drink and use for washing dishes. Comments online speculated that E. coli was in the water, which forced the boiling water notice, but Ennis said water needs to be tested every time the City opens up a main for repairs, and all testing came back fine. Some residents experienced their water shut off at 10 p.m. on Friday night but had it come back on by 7:30 on Saturday morning. Surprising to some, the tenor of local restaurants in downtown was calm, albeit inconvenienced.
“I haven’t heard anything yet, I’ve seen a couple facebook posts… I haven’t hear a lot of negative at least not as much as I expected,” Sarah Tyler from the Exeter Chamber of Commerce said. “Everyone closed down, the only that had stayed open was Taco Man… but most of what I’ve seen was very understanding.”
The leak was caused during road construction to rehabilitatate Highway 65 from Highway 198 to Highway 137 at Cairns Corner. Christian Lukens, a spokesperson for Kern and Tulare counties in Caltrans’ District 6, said the eight-mile long overlay project is grinding down the subsurface of the road for repairs before repaving with fresh asphalt and adding new striping and reflectors. The overlay project is about $720,000 with a total of about $5.48 million being invested in Highway 65 overall.
In addition to road repairs, Lukens said Caltrans is also redoing curbing and gutters by adding wheelchair accessible ramps at intersections within the city limits of Exeter. The City of Exeter held off on making those improvements because they have known for several years that the project was on Caltrans radar even after the state transportation agency announced that Highway 65 would be relocated to Road 204 (Spruce Road) in 2012.
The improvements to Highway 65 were announced last July as part of a $593 million package allocated by the California Transportation Commission funded through Senate Bill 1 funds, also known as a portion of the Gas Tax. In addition to Highway 65, Tulare County also received $16.9 million for pavement rehabilitation and realignment of Highway 190 from Highway 99 Separation to west of Road 184. SB1 took effect on Nov. 1, 2017 with a $0.12 per gallon tax increase. Other increases include a $0.20 per gallon tax increase on diesel excise tax, a $25 to $175 Vehicle License Fee based on the vehicle’s value and a new $100 annual vehicle registration fee applicable only to zero-emission vehicles model year 2020 and later. According to the bill’s text, SB1 would annually set aside $200,000,000 of the funds available for road maintenance and rehabilitation purposes.