Pioneer Way leaks become priority

A series of leaks in the almost 80-year-old water main on Pioneer Way prompted the Oak Harbor City Council Tuesday night to approve expediting the replacement project.

City Engineer Eric Johnston described the direness of the situation to the council. He highlighted December’s serious water main breach on Highway 20 across from Les Schwab that resulted in subsequent smaller leaks that portend a complete failure.

Pinhole-size leaks have been commonplace on Pioneer Way, which Johnston said could easily worsen and again, lead to failure of the water main.

The waterline replacement has been a longtime goal included in the city’s proposed future street project. However, the leaks necessitated an immediate, no frills replacement.

“Essentially, the program can’t wait,” Johnston told the council.

Installed in 1929, the water main is the oldest in Oak Harbor. Leaks have steadily increased from one incident in 2001 to eight last year.

Although the logistics have yet to be finalized, Johnston said the replacement will extend on Pioneer Way from Ely Street to Midway Boulevard. Other non-emergency but desired projects like service line replacement and sidewalk improvements will have to wait.

The engineer said staff are sensitive to lessening the inevitable disruptions to downtown businesses a project of that magnitude would create.

“Our current thinking is we’ll limit work to a block at a time,” Johnston said. Whether the work is performed during daytime hours or during the night has not been determined.

The project will ideally not close Pioneer Way, but traffic could be diverted to Bayshore Drive if necessary.

“Our hope is to not close the street,” Johnston said in response to council member’s question.

Using a truncated timeline, the city is soliciting community feedback to help lay out a project that has a minimal impact on businesses and residents, and does not conflict with holidays or special events.

An informational open house will be held Wednesday, Feb. 20, from 6 to 8 p.m. at City Hall. Comments can also be submitted electronically on a city-moderated blog set up at

The project will be advertised beginning Feb. 16 and the City Council will vote on the contract at the March 18 meeting. Construction would begin in April or May.

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