Leak forces evacuations in Essex Jct - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Leak forces evacuations in Essex Jct

Essex Junction, Vermont - December 20, 2011

Nearly 60 Essex residents are forced to sleep away from home Tuesday night after their housing complex sprung a major leak. Building operators say they hope to get residents back in as soon as possible, but that may not be until after the holidays.

Cedars' Edge is a 30-unit apartment building for those with moderate incomes. The new facility opened just more than a month ago. Now, it's uninhabitable.

Building owners said a faulty fire suppression system led to Tuesday's major water damage.

Jessica Leblanc was home at the time of the malfunction. She said the fire alarms were going off but there was no sign of smoke. "We walk out and it was gushing water coming out of the building," she said.

A month earlier Senator Bernie Sanders came to cut the ribbon on the facility. The $5.5 million project nearly doubled the number of affordable rental units in Essex when it opened. Now, the tenants don't know when they can return home.

"I have friends locally and if for any reason this extends past this evening I'll make alternative arrangements," said Leblanc.

"It's a great building and it'll be gorgeous again as soon as we can get this work done," said Michael Monte. He is the Chief Operating Officer for Champlain Housing Trust which owns and manages the facility.

Monte said about six apartments need significant work. "But, really some of the larger systems for the building were also damaged and that's what's keeping the whole building out," he explained.

Stairwell lights were back on Monday night as clean-up crews worked late, but nobody's home yet. Monte says he's unsure if the apartments will be ready for Christmas.

"We're pushing for that obviously were doing the best we can to make that happen," he said, "but I'm not sure really we can commit to that yet by the end of the day (Wednesday) we'll know better."

Monte say the broken pipe is fixed. Electricians are working on restoring power to the building then the focus will shift to individual apartments.

Managers escorted some residents to their apartments so they could pick up clothes and valuables. In the mean-time, they've been offered hotel rooms and meal vouchers, but those with the worst damage may need to find a new home.

Monte said the contractor who built the facility has taken responsibility for Tuesday's leak and will cover the cost of cleanup.

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