New water me­ters raise con­cerns

News-Herald (Perkasie, PA) - - FRONT PAGE - By Thomas Celona and Bob Keeler

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.

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