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January 16, 2013

Problem plagues PI water system

Issue witheld from public for months

NEWBURY -- The water system on Plum Island faces serious and potentially costly problems, thanks to what appears to be substandard equipment in shut off valves.

In a statement issued on Monday, Town Administrator Tracy Blais said that officials in Newburyport have identified failures in the $22.9 million system and are “working closely with the engineers who designed the system, as well as state officials and the officials of the town of Newbury, to determine the cause of those failures and the methods and procedures necessary to address those failures and prevent their recurrence.”

When reached for comment on Tuesday, Selectmen Chairman Joe Story said he could only confirm that his board has had meetings with the Newburyport mayor and that he “feels she is doing the right thing.”

For months, rumors have circulated on Plum Island that the eight-year-old water system suffers from a serious problem related to bolts that hold pipes together. But Newburyport officials have declined to comment on the problem, and in some cases have said they are not aware that there’ a problem. The city has been engaged in secret settlement talks with a company or companies involved in the installation, and planned to delay making a public announcement until a solution to the problem is reached.

Although most of Plum Island’s 1,200 homes are in Newbury, Newburyport is the primary manager of the water and sewer system because it hooks directly into Newburyport’s existing water and sewer infrastructure.

Blais’s statement did not indicate which specific areas in the system are sub-par. But according to Daniel Mahoney, who runs his family’s business Mr. Moe’s Package Store on Plum Island Boulevard, the problem lies with the equipment that controls how water flows into a building. Mahoney says that according to a source in Newbury town government, a small piece that connects to the shut off valve was left off when the water pipes were installed -- either that, or the wrong piece was inadvertently used. Mahoney declined to reveal the name of his source but said he feels confident the person was in a position to know of what he or she was speaking.

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