, Newburyport, MA

Local News

January 20, 2013

'Gag order' mutes PI woes

Mayor briefs City Council in closed-door meeting


The unusual Saturday meeting was convened in part because stories in The Daily News had reported that “problems” in the water system on Plum Island were serious — and under study.

But the problems have not been publicly defined by officials in Newburyport or Newbury.

The reports evidently alarmed many residents of Plum Island, who have demanded to know the nature and immediacy of what appear to be construction issues.

But problems on Plum Island will also affect ratepayers in “inner” Newbury and Newburyport, who together are part of a water district.

Though most of the island’s 1,200 homes are in Newbury, ratepayers in both communities will be responsible for funding repairs and/or higher rates if major work on the system is required, officials said.

In a phone interview, Holaday expressed frustration that she is not allowed to discuss the matter publicly yet. Holaday and other city leaders have been resolute in not speculating about what could be wrong, but a study has been under way for close to 18 months to identify problems.

One apparent manifestation of trouble occurred in late October, when a major water main broke during Superstorm Sandy. Many Plum Island homes were briefly without water as a result.

That break was fixed, but it seems to have added to the speculation about structural problems with the water system.

Several Plum Island residents with construction experience speculate that the bolts connecting large water pipes together are corroding and “letting go.” Since the underground pipes run for several miles, it could be a huge undertaking to check and/or replace such bolts.

On a separate issue, other residents say that pipe and valve work between underground water mains and individual residences could be faulty. A resident of 20th Street in Newbury reported that a connector from the water main under the street to his home “gave out” and water entered his basement. He said the disruption was traced to a connector between the shut-off box and the main.

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