The cloudburst Thursday afternoon that turned Spokane’s downtown streets into gushing rivers, also created havoc at the massive presses that print The Spokesman-Review newspaper.
The culprit was a 12-foot section of a 6-inch cast-iron drain pipe fed by six smaller 4-inch pipes designed to channel stormwater off of the parking area on top of the building that houses the massive Goss press, which was installed in the facility that opened in 1981.
The downpour sent thousands of gallons of water into the feeder pipes. All that water rushing into the old cast-iron pipe apparently hit a buildup of sediment, creating enough pressure to cause a quarter-inch rupture down the length of the pipe, said building manager Bill Hardin.
Publisher Stacey Cowles said it appears that the pipe failure was not something crews could have predicted.
“Unfortunately, we had a catastrophic failure,” he said. “The amazing thing was that our crews were on top of it. Our concern was what happens if we get another cloudburst.”
The water from the burst pipe sprayed more than 20 feet as it filled the basement of the press facility.
Sheets of water cascaded down to the basement, which has a series of tracks for pulley cars, called towveyors, that transport the huge paper rolls that feed the Goss press, which is configured for press runs of up to 200,000 copies.
“We had more than 7,000 gallons of water by the time we were down there to fix it,” Hardin said. “Water collected in the pits below the presses.”
But all that equipment uses 110-volt and 480-volt electronic boxes to power them. And, all of those electronics now had water cascading down onto and into them, said Rick Sant, director of operations for the SR.
“Initially, our biggest concern was getting someone electrocuted,” Sant said. “One of the pressmen, as soon as he saw a leak, ran and turned off the power to everything. That saved us. It would have been a light show.”
Once it was safe to enter, Hardin said one electrician used a drill to punch holes in the electronic boxes so that water would have a place to drain away.
“The water was coming down in sheets,” Sant said. “You sit there and think, ‘Wow. If this ever stops, we’ll see what we can do.’ I walked down here thinking we were not going to be printing on this for a month.”
The pipe that burst just happened to be the last section of 6-inch drain pipe that had not been replaced, Hardin said. The PVC replacement pipe was already on hand.
Crews began using sump pumps and Shop-vacs to suck up the standing water as they waited for a plumber to install the new 6-inch drain pipe, Sant said.
Once the water flow was stopped, crews began loading the presses about two hours late to get what’s called the preprint, or the sections of the newspaper that are not produced on deadline, rolling. To speed up the process, crews ran the massive older Goss press and a recently purchased, and much smaller, Quad Stack press at the same time.
As a result of running both presses, crews were able to load the main paper at about 11:30 p.m. and the paper got printed on time, he said.
“It ends up like nothing had happened,” Sant said. “I still can’t believe we pulled that off. It turned out to be a lot better than I expected. It was really remarkable.”
Cowles, the publisher, credited the press crews for their fast action for making sure the paper got printed Thursday night.
“It’s kind of the joy of an old building: You get things you don’t expect,” he said. “Our biggest concern was the danger of electrocution or significant damage to the equipment. But we didn’t have that damage. It was pretty crazy.”
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