American Legion basement hardest hit by Port Townsend water main break

PORT TOWNSEND — Water from a broken main earlier this week covered the floor of the Port Townsend American Legion’s basement, where a homeless shelter is in operation during the winter months, but it was cleaned up before the shelter opened that night.

Construction was again bustling Wednesday on Water Street in downtown Port Townsend where the ruptured main halted operations Monday and Tuesday.

The 12-inch pipe that burst Monday also caused about 70 or 80 local businesses to receive a boil-water, or temporary shutdown, order from Jefferson County Public Health until it was determined that no contaminants got into the water system.

The Port Townsend American Legion was affected more than any other structure. It stands mere feet from the point where 150,000 gallons of water rushed onto the corner of Water and Monroe streets.

“The water ran up against the outside wall and pooled up there,” said Port Townsend American Legion Cmdr. Joe Carey.

“It got up to about 3 inches out here, but then it started running down into the basement.

“It could have gotten really bad.”

The Legion basement houses the winter shelter for the homeless run by Olympic Community Action Programs.

Carey said about half an inch of water pooled on the floor after the pipe burst around 12:30 p.m., but a quick response from the city and East Jefferson Fire-Rescue kept the problem from becoming a disaster.

“I give them credit for responding so quickly,” Carey said.

“The city ran out and got the water off before it got too bad and the fire department responded very quickly and helped us suck the water out.

“It was a close call, but we got it all cleaned up in time for the shelter that night.”

Carey said the Legion will have to wait until the end of winter when the shelter closes to pry open the walls and look for damage, but he hoped to find no major problems.

And as for the upstairs portion of the legion?

“We kept on going through all of this,” Carey said. “We survived the flood and boiled all our water.”

80 businesses called

Jean Baldwin, director of Jefferson County Public Health, said that she estimated 80 local businesses got a call Monday afternoon and evening about the burst pipe and the county’s boil water order.

Restaurants were ordered to close their doors if they could not comply to a boil water order and schools and senior citizen centers were warned of the problem.

“We have a system where an e-mail is sent out immediately to the schools and the emergency operations center,” Baldwin said.

“The rest of the notifications are made by phone calls to the individual business and that can take some time.

“On Monday, we had five people making calls to the list of businesses on our lists.”

Baldwin also enacted the emergency response protocol by contacting the Jefferson County Department of Emergency Management, which in turn contacted about 100 neighborhood preparedness groups in the Port Townsend area.

“The county has about 200 groups that can spread the word and plan for emergencies,” said Keppie Keplinger, spokeswoman for the emergency management department.

“About 100 of those are in the Port Townsend area, and they did a really good job of getting the information out in the community.”

City Manager David Timmons feels information could be disseminated more quickly.

“What this situation really highlights is the need to look at an emergency notification system,” Timmons said. “And not just a city system, but one that can be used for the entire county.”

He plans to research systems that could call and e-mail individual residents in the event of an emergency.

The final cost of the repair of the pipe won’t be known until at least next week, Timmons said.

He doesn’t expect a high bill.

“The real price comes with the hours worked by staff to get it done that night,” he said.

“It was fixed within a day, so it wasn’t in the magnitude of thousands or anything like that.”


Reporter Erik Hidle can be reached at 360-385-2335 or at

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