Frozen pipes prove draining

Steamboat's recent cold weather causes bursts, damage

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Plumbers, insurance agents and city officials are working overtime to help people in Routt County recover from last week's freeze.

Several consecutive days of sub-zero temperatures caused water pipes to freeze or burst in Steamboat Springs and much of western Colorado, damaging homes, shutting down businesses such as The Steamboat Smokehouse, draining more than one-third of Oak Creek's town water supply and flooding phone lines with calls for help.

"It's been pretty much nonstop," said Maegan Veenstra, office manager at Roto-Rooter Plumbing in Craig. "This has been, by far, the most call volume we've had, especially dealing with frozen pipes."

Veenstra said calls about frozen and burst water pipes began Thursday, when temperatures dipped to more than 20 degrees below zero. Although the calls have tapered off because of warmer weather, plumber and manager Doug Warren still has a waiting list of more than 30 customers, Veenstra said.

"We're getting to them as soon as we can," she said. Based in Craig, the Roto-Rooter branch does most of its work in Steamboat. Many of the calls came from people living in trailers, where water pipes often are less protected than those in larger homes, Veenstra said.

Plumbers and homeowners aren't the only ones dealing with the aftermath.

Debbie Aragon, an agent with State Farm Insurance in Steamboat, said the company has received more than 10 claim requests since Friday for water damage from burst pipes.

State Farm has received more than 700 such claims across Colorado during the past two weeks, Aragon said. The company has set up an extra, statewide "catastrophe claims service" to handle the heavy volume.

"It's very unusual that State Farm sets up that kind of service for freezing claims," Aragon said, noting that catastrophe service usually is put into effect after large hailstorms or wildfires.

Aragon said she couldn't recall another instance of catastrophe service for freezing claims in her 10 years as a State Farm agent.

Alpine Insurance agent Pax--ton Jones said that although most homeowner insurance policies do not cover repairs to frozen or burst water pipes, water damage inside the home caused by broken pipes probably is covered.

"If your pipes freeze, definitely turn in the claim, for sure," Jones said.

The Steamboat Smokehouse took a hit from the cold, as well. The Lincoln Avenue restaurant was closed Thursday through Sunday after pipes, kitchen drains and a roof drain froze.

"This building is 107 years old," restaurant owner Fritz Aurin said. "There are a lot of nooks and crannies where cold air gets in."

Aurin said closing the restaurant for an entire weekend cost his business a significant amount of money.

"This is normally a slow time of year, but with all the snow, our sales have been up," he said. "We missed out on all the good publicity that the ski area had."

Despite water problems and frozen drains, the restaurant still was able to provide for previously arranged catering and private parties, Aurin said. Staff at the City Cafe in Centennial Hall and the Veterans of Foreign Wars post loaned use of their kitchens to the Smokehouse, Aurin said.

"We had to go buy a lot of water," Aurin said. "It caught us all by surprise a little bit."

The Steamboat Smokehouse is now running at usual capacity.

The early-winter freeze caught the town of Oak Creek by surprise, too.

"This is more like February weather -- the hard freezes came fast this year," Mayor Kathy "Cargo" Rodeman said.

When a main water pipe burst Dec. 6, the town lost about 80,000 gallons of water. Oak Creek's total supply is about 200,000 gallons, public works Director Jim Photos said.

"When the town put the water lines in years ago, they put the pipe in a natural, clay material without any bedding," Photos said. "The ground shifted, and the pipe burst."

Oak Creek has a new water plant that is about a year old and can produce about 350 gallons a minute, Photos said, so no shortage resulted from the burst pipe.

Two homes were damaged by spilled water and the resulting ice, Rodeman said, adding that one resident's car was stuck in ice as deep as 6 inches.

The town may install bedding around the pipe next spring.

"Monetarily, I don't believe it would be that large of a project," Rodeman said, adding that Oak Creek officials learned a few things from the blast of cold weather.

"The early freeze really gives you a heads-up and lets you know where your problem areas are," she said. "If it didn't freeze in that weather, it probably won't freeze in February."

-- To reach Mike Lawrence, call 871-4203

or e-mail mlawrence@steamboatpilot.com

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