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Probe of Linn County pipe leaks points toward joints

Pipes did not burst, but cause of failure still unclear

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CEDAR RAPIDS — An investigation into what caused pipes to dump more than 500 gallons of water and antifreeze into Linn County’s courthouse and jail has left the board with more questions than answers.

Garth Fagerbakke, Linn County facilities director, presented the Linn County Board of Supervisors on Wednesday with the 17-page engineering investigation report. It was submitted last month by Michael Hessman, mechanical engineer with Cedar Rapids company West Plains Engineering.

The investigation found that the Fiberglas pipes did not burst. Rather, they separated at certain joints.

A definitive reason for those joint failures — which occurred Jan. 12 in the Linn County Courthouse and Jan. 13 in the Linn County Jail — was not provided in the report.

“Based on preliminary conversation and reviewing photographs with the manufacturer, the manufacturer believes that the pipe joints were not good, pipe fibers had not separated, pipe surfaces were smooth and excessive adhesive was found at the pipe joints,” the report states.

While the report points to joint failure as the likely culprit, failing joints could be attributed to many factors, including inadequate surface preparation on the pipes, improper quantity or inadequate curing of the adhesive or improper insertion where the pipes meet the joints.

Supervisor James Houser said his concern is about the remaining Fiberglas pipes and joints in the county’s jail, courthouse and Jean Oxley Public Service Center, all of which were installed after the 2008 flood.

“My question is, where is the next issue going to happen? What about all the other joints?” Houser said at Wednesday’s meeting.

The report recommends further analysis and investigation of the removed pipes and joints by the pipe manufacturer.

Fagerbakke said he plans to bring a formal recommendation to the board.

The pipe leaks at the courthouse and jail dumped more than 500 gallons of a mixture of water and nontoxic antifreeze into courtrooms, judges’ chambers and the rear portion of the jail.

Both buildings, which are supplied by the same boiler system, were without heat for several hours as a result.

About a week earlier, on Jan. 4, a Fiberglas pipe reducer was found leaking in the courthouse building.

Preliminary cost estimates for pipe repairs, cleanup, staff time and furniture replacement in both county buildings is roughly $121,500.

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