Team Effort

Multiple contractors rallied around a pipe bursting project that restored water to a southern California hotel without harming a historic fig tree
Team Effort

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Water leaking into crawl spaces and pooling in the flowerbed in front of the main entrance at the Fairmont Miramar Hotel in Santa Monica, Calif., meant an emergency for head engineer Tim Kirby.

He called maintenance provider Julio Jaime of Roto-Rooter Plumbing & Drain Service in Los Angeles. “We’d done spot repairs on the line, but never were allowed to cut and inspect it,” he says. “Shutting off the water was simply unacceptable.”

The line ran beneath the main driveway of 2-foot-thick reinforced concrete, then past a historical landmark, an 80-foot-tall fig tree. Damage to either was undesirable. Jaime had pipe-burst sewer lines and recommended the technology to Kirby, who agreed.

Due to the job’s high profile, Jaime consulted Michael Lien, director of operations at TRIC Tools Inc. “I saw nothing unusual about the project, but the logistics were challenging,” says Lien.

The work would close the hotel’s main driveway and the cobblestone walkway and porte-cochere, forcing guests and valets to use a small alternative entrance. Restoring normalcy was top priority, but a string of unforeseen events turned the one-day job into a four-day adventure that ended successfully.

Surprise package

The City of Santa Monica was unaware that the American Water Works Association approved HDPE Performance pipe for waterlines, and at first refused Jaime a work permit. Lien scrambled to get the appropriate documents from the manufacturer and AWWA. Upon reviewing them, city officials approved the procedure.

Everyone assumed the waterline was 1-inch-thick ductile iron pipe. To splice through it and the mechanical couplings Jaime used on the repairs, TRIC founder Ward Carter made a special slitting blade that bolted to the nose of a 4-inch bursting head. The 20-inch-long V-shaped blade was three inches thick, with a hole near the tip to accept the pulling cable.

Kirby hired Stonehenge from Los Angeles to remove the cobblestones and excavate the entry and exit pits. After the main entrance was barricaded to redirect guests, work began on a Thursday morning on the 45- by 30-inch exit pit. “The men were using an electric jackhammer and extracting one stone at a time,” says Lien. “Julio and I expected to burst the pipe that day, but it wasn’t going to happen at that speed.”

After Stonehenge excavated six feet and located the pipe where Jaime said it would be, the action moved to the wettest area in the flowerbed. The men dug down two feet and hit a slab of concrete. The lack of a pneumatic hammer ended the day’s work. Workers returned Friday morning with the proper equipment, pounded through three feet of concrete, and found an electrical conduit, a fire sprinkler line and irrigation lines.

“The thick concrete was an over-poured thrust block for the fire sprinkler line,” says Lien. “Concrete thrust blocks are poured behind 90-degree turns in pressurized waterlines to prevent the elbows from blowing out. Once we were past it, there was no sign of our waterline.”

Where is it?

Early Saturday morning, Roto-Rooter technician John Zarate cut a bolt on the mechanical coupling in the exit pit to prepare the pipe for bursting, then left for another job. He returned later to find the pit flooded and water running down the driveway and into the street.

“We got a sump pump going and dewatered the pit,” says Zarate. “When I cut the bolt, the pressure in the pipe was so great that it blew out the rubber gasket and water shot through the gap.” The hotel maintenance crew had closed the water valve at the street and was unaware of a second valve.

After the maintenance crew shut off the water to the irrigation lines, Jaime cut them back to give Stonehenge more room to excavate in the entry pit. A locator indicated that the water pipe was in the middle of the hole. The cycle of digging and locating continued through Saturday.

Efforts began anew at 7 a.m. Monday, but the elusive waterline refused to appear. In frustration, Lien looked at the exposed pipe in the exit pit, asked Jaime where he had made his last repair, and mentally projected the points. The imaginary line ran three feet to the left of the hole.

The Stonehenge crew jackhammered through the concrete. “They used the hammer at a slight angle so the bit would deflect if it hit the pipe,” says Jaime. “They took tremendous care. As soon as they broke through the slab, they used a probe and found a pipe five feet below grade.” The fire sprinkler line ran almost parallel to it.

“A lot of Monday was spent trying to shut off the water,” says Lien. “Although Julio had worked on this pipe before, the maintenance crew couldn’t find the correct valve and we couldn’t cut the pipe until most of the pressure was off it.”

The mystery was solved at 3:30 p.m. after Stonehenge excavated behind the exit pit, followed the waterline back, and found a tee that was a reserve line to the boilers. “They partially closed the valve so as not to totally shut down the hotel’s water supply,” says Lien.

Assume nothing

Thirty minutes later, Advanced Sewer Technologies of Los Angeles arrived with a Camel vacuum truck (Super Products) to hydroexcavate around the pipe in the entry pit. “I called them because we wanted to make sure no other lines or utilities were down there,” says Jaime. None were found.

When a Stonehenge worker tried to break the pipe with a hammer, it bounced off. “We expected ductile iron, but found a 1.5-inch-thick, slightly rusted cast-iron pipe,” says Lien. “When we cut it, water entered the pit.”

Stonehenge sculpted the hole to 4 by 5 feet to avoid a cave-in. Zarate then used a SeeSnake push camera from RIDGID to confirm that they had the correct pipe and to measure its length – a straight 60 feet to the exit pit.

At 6:45 p.m., a crew from Lighthart Corp. in Los Angeles began fusing the 4-inch high-density polyethylene pipe, while others built cribbing of 4-by-4s in the entry pit. They positioned the 1.5-inch-thick resistance plate against the wood before lowering the TRIC 60-ton hydraulic ram with twin 3-inch cylinders and attaching the 1-inch standard cable rated at 62 tons. The uneventful pull took 35 minutes.

Jaime and Zarate worked into the night connecting the pipe and restoring the hotel’s water supply. Stonehenge replaced the cobblestones so perfectly that no one could tell they had been disturbed, and the fig tree’s roots remained untouched.



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