, Newburyport, MA

February 18, 2013

Time for state to come clean on PI's water woes

Newburyport Daily News

---- — Newburyport Mayor Donna Holaday put an earnest and forthright effort into trying to inform Plum Islanders of the problems with their water system. At a public meeting last week, she gave the 100 or so attendees some insight into this problem, without actually going into details.

Holaday stopped short of full disclosure on a number of fronts, and that clearly is frustrating to her. A gag order is in place, due to the legal wranglings and investigations that are currently under way.

We favor a government that is straightforward and upfront with the public. We feel it’s an expectation that American democracy demands. And this situation exhibits none of that. Homeowners, voters, citizens — they deserve better from their government.

This is an odd and troubling situation, one of the strangest we’ve seen around here in some time. We have what appears to be a major problem with the pipes in the public water system on Plum Island, yet state agencies and lawyers have apparently gagged our local officials from saying anything cogent about it.

It’s a sad statement on the mechanisms of government. While it is understandable that our representatives don’t want to lay out all their cards in case this ends up in court, there should be a full accounting of facts as they are known at this time. Holaday did the right thing by trying to convey what she could. Now it’s up to our state agencies to start revealing what they know and what they are doing — this includes the Department of Environmental Affairs, the Inspector General’s Office and the Attorney General’s Office.

After all, the impetus for Plum Island’s $22.9 million water and sewer project was a state law that made substantial changes in septic system rules. Plum Island fell under a state order to adhere to these rules.

The list of problems incurred by this project has been growing.

The sewer system on the island was a relatively new design that had never been used this far north. It almost immediately fell ill to design-related problems, some of which were costly to fix.

The water system also had some problems during installation, but then seemed to be working fine. Now, we find that there is a serious design and/or installation problem, reportedly involving connectors and bolts that are failing. This system is less than a decade old.

Who is responsible? How could this have happened?

Government, whether it is local, state or federal, has an obligation to homeowners to keep them fully informed of what the problem is and how it impacts their property. We’ve heard some of that from the city; now it’s time for our state government to be forthright.