Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Who should pay for frozen pipes?

Hailey ordinance would put burden on citizens

Express Staff Writer

Hailey officials are in the midst of deciding who pays to thaw frozen private and city-owned water lines during very cold periods in winter.

A deep freeze this winter led to 42 cases of frozen water lines in Hailey. City work crews responded to all those instances, at a cost to the city of $5,500. Only 18 of the frozen line sections were on city property; the rest were on service lines between meter vaults and homes.

Burying water lines deep in the ground is the best way to avoid a freeze-up during a cold snap. But many water lines in Hailey are not buried deep enough, and residents are advised by the city to trickle a pencil-thin stream of water through them to avoid freezing. 

The Hailey City Council reviewed a new ordinance Monday that would hold private property owners financially responsible for frozen pipes on both city and private property, since only residents can trickle water during very cold periods.

The ordinance, initiated last month by Councilman Pat Cooley, would cap the fee on water consumption during cold snaps, as long as the water is trickled outside so it does not place an increased burden on the city sewer system. 

The ordinance would also allow neighbors to supply emergency water to those with frozen pipes, at no additional water use cost.

Hailey resident Peter Lobb said the council should reconsider placing the burden on residents for a problem that may have in some cases been created by the city. Lobb said many city-owned water lines from the city’s water mains to meter vaults were not buried deep enough in the 1970s, and that requiring residents to trickle water or pay up would be unfair.

“If the pipes freeze on the city’s side, it’s our [the city’s] problem,” he said.

Woodside resident and Planning and Zoning Commissioner Geoffrey Moore said many of his neighbors have run privately owned water service lines from the city’s meter vaults to their homes at a depth too shallow to avoid freezing, despite the city’s efforts to have them buried deeper. 

Moore advised the council not to offer free water in case of frozen pipes because it would “encourage bad behavior.”

Councilman Don Keirn said he spent extra in 2001 during construction of his home to have his service lines buried deeply enough, and insulated enough within his house, to never have to trickle water during cold snaps or pay for frozen lines. 

“I would be disappointed if it froze on the city’s side and I still had to pay for it,” he said.

The council tabled the matter until a public meeting on Monday, April 15, dedicated to water matters. At that time, city staff will have drafted a new version of the ordinance intended to satisfy all concerned parties.

In other Hailey news:

( The Fire Department was authorized to participate in an additional auto-aid agreement with the Bellevue Fire Department that could cost the city up to $2,000 per year yet provide additional automatic support from Bellevue for several categories of incidents, including vehicle, wildland and airport fires. Mayor Fritz Haemmerle described the new agreement as a “baby step” toward increased consolidation of personnel and equipment.

Tony Evans:

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