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Originally published in Island Ad-Vantages, March 14, 2013
Stonington Water Company problems continue as communication breaks down

by Alice Wilkinson

The Monday, March 11 Stonington Water Company meeting was contentious.

The Stonington selectmen made a series of comments about Water Company problems, questioning Water Company superintendent Roger Stone about ongoing problems and pressing him for answers.

Adding to recent issues involving mysterious water loss, the Water Company trustees learned the details of a report from the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention that highlighted other problems with the water company and offered a solution which could be beyond the financial reach of the company. The report, dated March 1, was written by Daniel R. Piasecki, of the drinking water program.

In the report, several points are made, among them:
Some water loss may be undetectable because it consists of small leaks in the aged iron pipes;
A typical fire event should drop the standpipe by no more than 10 feet;
The water company should develop a water hauling system for use in emergencies;
The generator at the treatment plant is inoperable;
The cross connection control plan is outdated.

The study also found that “approximately 45 percent of the water in the Stonington distribution is unaccounted. The industry target is to have this amount no more than 10 percent.”

Selectman Evelyn Duncan, who has pushed Stone for answers about the system’s water loss, began by saying that members of the water company board should have been notified when Piasecki made his visit.

Duncan had a list of points about the water company she thought should be dealt with. “I think we need to think about doing some drastic rethinking,” she said. “We’re getting off-track. We’re not asking the really big questions.”

Duncan said there needs to be monthly operator reports from Stone. Duncan used the recent visit of Olver Associates, hired to study the water system, as an example of something that should be on a water company meeting agenda. “We need to know what went on [with Olver’s visit]. I hear that Rural Community Assistance Program was down here but I don’t know what they did because we never got a report. I don’t know what problems there are, what grants are coming up and if we can afford to borrow any money.

“I don’t know if Olver makes suggestions if we can afford to do anything about it—or [if the report is] just going to sit on a shelf. I feel like it’s falling apart.”

Water company president Donna Brewer agreed with Duncan, and asked if Stone had known Piasecki was coming down. Stone said he had and Brewer replied, “But you didn’t let anyone know they were coming.”

Duncan added, “The worst case scenario is that Olver says we have to get another loan, and then we need to get a rate increase. I don’t want to be like Uncle Sam and kick the damn can down the road any longer.”

“I find it amazing that there are so many things that are wrong. I don’t know how we got to this point. There must be grant money out there,” Brewer added.

Selectman Richard Larrabee was also dismayed. “We sunk all our money into that filtration system that never worked. We’re going to have to put things into this budget we don’t like. We have to have a generator.” He also talked about the wasted water run to keep the system from freezing, and Duncan said that it is a matter of training.

Larrabee replied, “When those people are running water [to keep pipes from freezing] so the tank drops down, you can’t tell someone in a fire ‘the water’s gone; we had to run water to keep it from freezing.’

“This is the reason the water company gets $40,000 from the taxpayers [for hydrants]. To fight fires,” said Larrabee.

The weekend of March 9, the standpipe overflowed, because too much water was pumped into it.

Duncan raised her voice expressing anger that the tank was over filled. “That should not have happened.” As she pointed to Stone and said he should have been around to prevent the overfill by turning off a well, he slammed his folders on the table, stood up, and walked out, saying, over his shoulder, “See you around.”

However, Stone did return, and although the water company meeting had been officially adjourned, the arguing had not.

“Couldn’t you have come down on Saturday?” Duncan asked Stone.

Stone said he had, and added, “I shut the Eaton well off. There’s a lot to think about. I’m sick and tired of people telling me what to do who don’t know anything. I’m ready to go out of here. All the hard work I’ve put in all these years…”

Board Chairman George Stevens said, “it’s just that you need to tell us what’s going on so we’re not left in the dark.”

Stone said the board had handled things badly by not telling him they were calling in Olver Associates.

Larrabee said, “we had water missing and I don’t feel the least bit guilty about calling them. We were pumping everything we could pump and we’re still losing water. I thought maybe [Olver] could give us some help, and I don’t think we blindsided you.”

Duncan and Stone apologized for losing their tempers, and will wait for the report from Olver, due at next week’s meeting.

In a brief selectmen’s meeting, the selectmen signed the posters limiting heavy loads on the roads. They also, upon advice from Town Manager Kathleen Billings-Pezaris, awarded the bids for the floats and pilings to the lowest bidders, as required by the Small Harbor Improvement Grant. The winners of the project are Kendall Eaton, for the floats, and A. H. Marine, for the pilings.

She also told them that at a meeting of town managers she found out that some towns are taking taxpayers who are not paying the personal property tax to small claims court, which can handle claims of up to $6,000.