New water meters raise concerns
A trio of Sellersville residents expressed their frustration with new meter installations by the North Penn Water Authority at the Feb. 11 borough council meeting, saying the borough needs to provide residents with more communication about potential safety hazards.
In February 2011, Sellersville Borough sold its water system for $4.6 million to the NPWA, which now provides service to borough residents.
That service, however, has upset some residents, who claim the NPWA is concerned simply about making a profit, not about residents’ safety or providing proper information.
The NPWA has begun installing new water meters at borough homes that incorporate a back flow preventer, which is now required by law. The back flow valve, however, may require homeowners to add an expansion tank, as in some cases it has caused leaks due to thermal expansion.
What has upset residents so much is that the possibility of problems with the new back flow preventers and the potential need for an expansion tank have not been communicated to homeowners by either the borough or the NPWA.
“It’s definitely a public safety issue,” resident Joe 2’Riordan said. He said the NPWA was relying on the new equipment to be safe without knowing for sure.
2’Riordan also pointed out the financial concern of requiring residents to add an expanded water tank.
“North Penn Water Authority will describe me as a disgruntled resident, but it is not fair to do this to people in this economy,” he said.
Chris and Lisa Triolo brought similar concerns to council.
Chris, a contractor, said he could not believe the NPWA was able to install the meters without alerting residents to the potential risk, saying if he did so in his job, he would be held liable for any repairs and damage.
“It’s infuriating to know we weren’t made aware of any circumstances that may result,” he said. “It’s on us, at the risk of our family, our property.”
He said he and his wife recently
spent $900 on a water heater that now has a voided warranty and they’ve already incurred damage since the new meter was installed.
“We were never told to put an expansion tank on,” he said. “I had no idea about this.”
That lack of information was one of the residents’ biggest problems with the NPWA and the borough.
“Nobody knows about this,” Chris said. “People are not aware of things changing all the time, and awareness is a very helpful thing.”
In a Feb. 11 email to borough council members that was shared with the NewsHerald, O’Riordan expressed his frustration with the borough’s role in the situation, going as far as to call on Borough Manager David Rivet to resign for not notifying “residents before the new meters are installed by NPWA” and for “allowxing] NPWA to violate national and local plumbing codes.”
Prior to taking public comment on the issue, borough council held an approximately 15-minute executive session to discuss attorney/client privilege and potential litigation.
“We are reviewing xthe issue] with counsel, and we are formulating the proper response once we talk with the North Penn Water Authority,” council President Robert Rudick said, noting the borough was not ready to respond to the residents’ comments or O’Riordan’s email at that point.
Rudick said it was his understanding the NPWA was working to bring the water system into compliance with federal regulations by installing the new meters, but the council would ad- dress the residents’ concerns with the NPWA and work on communicating the information to residents.
In a three-page written response Feb. 13, NPWA bxecutive Director Tony Bellitto said the water company is legally required to install the backflow prevention devices and is spending $837,000 to install the new metering equipment at no charge to the customers in about 1,800 hookups to the Sellersville system.
Along with the $4.6 million to buy the Sellersville system, the 2011 agreement included provisions that NPWA would put at least $3.3 million worth of improvements into the system within five years and, after an initial water rate hike, freeze the rates for 10 years.
“NPWA does not own the household’s internal plumbing equipment, so we have no right and no obligation to pay for such repairs that may be necessary to maintain their systems,” Bellitto wrote.
Written notice about the new equipment is given to water customers the same day the equipment is installed, he said. Of the 850 devices installed thus far in Sellersville over the past few months, only 2 percent of the customers contacted NPWA to say they were having leakage, Bellitto said.
In cases where expansion tanks are needed, Bellitto said, “A plumber can do this for a modest cost — usually a couple of hundred dollars.”
The people who attended the council meeting “are on a self-appointed crusade to incite fear of an impending ‘catastrophe’ lurking in people’s basements from ex- ploding hot water heaters,” he wrote. “There is absolutely no need to unnecessarily alarm people about some impending disaster that simply is not going to happen. Such unfounded fear-mongering is totally unnecessary and misguided. We simply have not had the experience of hot water heaters blowing up amongst our many thousands of customers.”
Water quality, pressure, reliability and fire protection in Sellersville have all improved since NPWA took over the water system, he said.
“NPWA was brought into Sellersville to solve the many problems that existed for many years with the old water supply system, and that is exactly what we are doing — we are solving the problems,” he wrote.
At the same time, he said, NPWA is sensitive to the economic difficulties faced by customers. As a municipally owned, public, nonprofit organization, the accusations that the water company is only out to make a profit are off base, he said.
“We make no profits and we send no dividend money to shareholders,” Bellitto wrote. “All the money we make goes into operating the organization and the water supply system, and making capital improvements to the infrastructure.”
To see a copy of the entire NPWA response, see the online edition of this story at PerkasieNewsHerald.com.