, Newburyport, MA

January 18, 2013

Council to decide on revealing problems with PI water sytem


---- — NEWBURYPORT – The concept of “executive session” might collide with “the public’s right to know” Saturday when the City Council is scheduled to meet regarding unspecified problems with the water system on Plum Island.

The council session is at 11:30 a.m. and at that time councilors will vote on whether to have an open meeting or go into executive session, according to City Clerk Richard Jones.

City officials say that because litigation might be discussed, an executive session (which bars residents and media) could be held.

The council has held numerous executive sessions in recent months, and members have not divulged the content of those meetings. It was unclear at press time whether city officials would release a statement after the Saturday meeting, if an executive session is held.

A special meeting on a Saturday is highly unusual, and Council President Tom O’Brien said the subject would be the water system on Plum Island. Newburyport officials will not say specifically what the water system’s problem is, though they have been discussing a resolution to the problem behind closed doors.

In recent days, Newbury officials have expressed concern about problems with the seven-year-old water system there. Most of the 1,200 residences on the barrier island are in Newbury but the city of Newburyport administers the water and sewer system.

Newbury Town Administrator Tracy Blais has said that “failures” in the system have caused concern for residents and town leaders. The term failure was not defined nor has it been ascertained how many incidents of “failure” have been reported.

Mayor Donna Holaday on Wednesday issued statement, which in part said, “Given the two water-main breaks that occurred over the past year and a half, the city initiated a thorough investigation of the system last year,” she said. “Through this evaluative process, city officials have been working in coordination with Newbury officials and in junction with relevant state agencies, legal counsel and various contractors who were involved in the project.”

Though Holaday made mention of water-main breaks, at least one smaller incident has occurred at the residence of a Newbury homeowner.

Pat Mahoney, who lives on 20th Street on Plum Island, said that several days before Christmas, he experienced a disruption in his water system.

A connector from the water main from the street to his residence “gave out,” and water entered his basement.

“I had two commercial pumps working,” said Mahoney, a former building contractor. “If I hadn’t been there, and known who to call, I could have had a full basement and thousands of dollars in damage.”

Mahoney said that workers from Newburyport’s water department responded immediately, “and they did a great job.”

He said that because the disruption was traced to the pipe between the shut-off box and the main, it is the city’s responsibility. He speculated that if the break had come between the box and the house, the expense would have been his.

He suggested that there was no “sleeve” on the street side of his house, a part that enhances the movement of the water.

Mahoney said that he has heard of “about five” other examples of water problems at residences but he did not have the names of those who encountered trouble.

In Holaday’s statement, she said, “Of the 1,241 connections (on Plum Island), we have identified only a handful that were missing important hardware and the situations have been corrected.”

Several residents of Plum Island yesterday said that they are not clear what kind of problems exist, and how widespread they are.

A real-estate saleswoman, who declined to give her name, expressed concerns about selling houses there.

“If there is a problem it seems we would have to notify potential buyers. But we don’t have all the information,” she said.

A spokeswoman for D & C Construction Co., Inc., in Rockland, which did much of the construction on the project, yesterday said the company has not been in contact with the city about doing more work and/or remedial construction.