, Newburyport, MA

January 18, 2013

Public deserves to know what ails PI's water system

Newburyport Daily News

---- — Plum Islanders are owed a detailed explanation of precisely what is wrong with the island’s water system, and how it will be fixed.

They are also owed an explanation of why Newburyport officials have adopted a collective code of silence over what may be a very serious problem with the water system. It’s flat-out wrong for local government to withhold such vital information from its constituents.

The Newburyport City Council has an opportunity tomorrow morning to rectify at least part of this. Councilors, who will be holding a special meeting to discuss the as-of-yet unspecified problem, need to give citizens some solid information on what it is that the city is trying to deal with. After all, it is the property owners of Plum Island who essentially own the water and system, after paying tens of thousands of dollars in betterment fees. Those property owners have a right to know what ails the system that they paid for.

For months — some say as long as two years — rumors have swirled around the island regarding a substantial flaw in the water system’s piping. The most common story told on the island is that bolts connecting the water pipes together are failing, which could possibly mean that all of the streets would have to be dug up, and all of the connecting bolts replaced. We would venture to guess that the pricetag for this would run into the millions. Others have said that there is a problem with the valve that controls water flow at each property.

But no one is really sure exactly what the problem is, because our local officials won’t discuss it. If ever there was a time when all this talk about having a “transparent” government mattered, this is it.

The Daily News and some island residents have pressed for answers, but none have been forthcoming until this week, when Newbury town administrator Tracy Blais became the first local official to acknowledge that there is a problem with the system. We think citizens expect this at a minimum from their public officials, and certainly Tracy Blais deserves credit for shining some light on this issue.

Newburyport’s a different story. There’s been an official blackout on information on this matter, apparently as the city tries to come to an agreement with various parties over how it will be solved. This started in the mayor’s office and trickled on down the pyramid.

We are glad that a story in this week’s Daily News has finally prodded local officials to take some sort of action, We think that city officials need to follow the path of accountability that they followed in the past when problems with the Plum Island water and sewer system occurred -- they should give a detailed explanation of what the problem is, and what steps are being taken to fix it. If steps are not yet in place, at least let the public know what the scope of the problem is.

We may not like what we hear, particularly if there are big dollar signs attached to it. But fully informing the public is the right thing to do.