Frustrated crews continue search for missing clamp

By Beth Daley
Globe Staff / May 13, 2010

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It’s the big dig for the elusive clamp.

Yes, it’s steel and may weigh a ton. But the critical piece of evidence, which authorities need to figure out why up to 2 million people in Boston and 29 other communities went without safe tap water for 2 1/2 days earlier this month, remains missing despite extensive searches. The clamp, which held two massive water pipes together, blew off for unknown reasons.

Frustrated crews have not found the clamp in tons of soil dredged out of the Charles River, where it was dumped by millions of gallons of rushing water from the break. State Police divers even went on a reconnaissance mission 4 miles away by the Moody Street Dam in Waltham this week, on the remote chance that Herculean currents had pushed the 10-foot-diameter clamp, or pieces of it, there. Nothing.

The latest efforts will include a detailed sonar survey of the Charles River bed. The use of ground-penetrating radar on land has identified two buried spots where the ring may be near the site of the break.

Officials at the monthly board meeting of the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority said yesterday that those places may hold the clamp, or they may not. And just to make things really grim, MWRA executive director Fred Laskey did not discount the theory that the clamp could be under the concrete block poured last week to help hold the repaired pipe connection together.

“We have a couple more stones to turn over before we get to’’ any decision to look for the clamp under the concrete block, Laskey said.

Meanwhile, state officials are expected to name a three-member independent panel as early as next week to start examining potential causes of the water main break that leaked 265 million gallons of water through a 1-inch gap between the two pipe segments. The clamp helped connect the new $728 million MetroWest water tunnel to the older city tunnel that carries water from the Quabbin and Wachusett reservoirs on the last leg of its journey into Boston.

“This is not something we want to rush and get wrong,’’ said Ian Bowles, chairman of the MWRA board and state energy and environmental affairs secretary.

“The key questions are why did it happen and what are the implications for the rest of the system,’’ he said.

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