Photo by Chris Burritt/NWO | Mayor Spencer Sullivan (right) answers questions from resident Freddy Dmuchowski, who said he’s concerned about the Town’s potential liability if a community well operated by the Town needed repairs.
by CHRIS BURRITT
OAK RIDGE - More than 30 residents attended an open house for a proposed water system for Oak Ridge, asking Town Council and staff members to explain how existing water users would benefit from a proposal possibly costing taxpayers.
After talking to Mayor Spencer Sullivan, Oak Ridge resident John Colby said he understands how the proposed system would benefit users. Initially, the system would serve residents of new subdivisions with 30 or more houses.
"I'm still not understanding how it helps the rest of the town, the 7,000 people who live here," Colby said in an interview during the open house at Town Hall Nov. 21. "I don't understand why the rest of the town would want to take on the liability.
"I have an open mind," said Colby, who has lived in the Bugle Run subdivision on Bunch Road for about 20 years and draws his water from a private well. "I'm trying to understand the rationale for starting a water system for our town."
Users of existing private wells and community wells wouldn't be required to connect to the municipal system, according to the town's proposal. If the system is built, neighborhoods could seek to tap into the system.
Establishing a municipal water system would be "a step in the right direction" for town leaders to begin dealing with shortcomings such as contamination in the network of private and community wells in Oak Ridge, said resident Phil McNamara.
The water that McNamara draws from his private well in Oak Ridge Plantation on N.C. 150 contains extremely fine sand, or silica, that's not captured by his filtration system. Some of his family members are allergic to it, he said.
McNamara said he'd possibly be willing to pay to tap into the community well serving the adjacent Twelve Oaks neighborhood if the system were expanded to Oak Ridge Plantation. The prospect for expanding water services in that fashion should be the focus of town leaders planning for the future, he said.
"I know doing a multi-million dollar municipal water system isn't going to happen tomorrow," McNamara said. "At least getting people thinking positively about the need for expanded infrastructure for municipal water is the right thing to do."
Following the open house, the next step for the council is considering approval of two documents - a water system management plan and rules for operating the system, possibly as soon as the council's monthly meeting Dec. 5, the mayor said in an interview during the open house.
After adopting rules, the council can solicit bids from contractors who would operate and manage the system for the town, Sullivan said. The contractor would help the town with operational and financial details and other information that state regulators would consider in evaluating whether Oak Ridge would have the capability to operate the system.
Mayor Pro Tem Jim Kinneman said he and other council members "want to get up to our elbows in the financial side of things" to make sure that operating the system would make sense financially for the town.
Councilman Doug Nodine reiterated his concerns during the open house. In an interview, he said he and some other residents question why the town would want to incur the liability and possibly risk taxpayer dollars operating a system that would initially benefit new residents only.
"It doesn't benefit anyone who voted in the last election," Nodine said. "It only benefits newcomers."
Freddy Dmuchowski, an Oak Ridge resident for about 10 years, said he's concerned about the town' potential liability if a community well operated by the town needed repairs. "Who covers that?" he asked.
He said the mayor explained to him that a surplus of revenue over costs from operating the system would be set aside in an enterprise fund for repairs and improvements. "Seed money" from the general fund may cover startup costs for the water system, Town Manager Bill Bruce said in September, on the expectation that tax dollars would eventually be repaid by revenues from users.
"I still have questions, but I'm more positive for it than when I walked in," Dmuchowski said. "It's probably for the betterment of the town in the long run."
want to learn more?
Visit the Town of Oak Ridge's website at oakridgenc.com. In the left-hand column, click on "News & Notices" and then the "Water Documents" link.