Cumberland on the hook for water break on private property

Cumberland on the hook for water break on private property

CUMBERLAND – Town officials say they’re frustrated after learning that local ratepayers will have to cover the bill for a water line break on private property.

Bill Descoteaux, acting superintendent of the Cumberland Water Department, provided the Town Council with an update of department operations two weeks ago, saying there have been 10 water breaks to date this year, most notably one on Fisher Road behind Diamond Hill Park at the Ski Valley Condominiums.

Descoteaux said workers were on their way to investigate a call from a resident stating that water was leaking onto Fisher Road when they were notified by the Water Department operator that the department had lost 15 feet of water in the Fisher Tank. After shutting off the tank, it was learned that 11 feet had been lost, or approximately 161,546 gallons in one hour, the cause being a 14-inch crack in the water main on Fisher Road.

“In the past, all repairs were the responsibility of the condo association. This is common practice with all private property,” he wrote. “To my knowledge at the time, this was no exception.”

Matt Larson, of Dartmouth Group Property Management, and Chris Scothon, owner of Digger’s Construction, were on site when Descoteaux arrived, and the water superintendent said he confirmed with them that the break was the association’s responsibility. Larson then hired Digger’s Construction for the repair.

The following day, said Descoteaux, Larson produced an easement agreement signed in February 1988 stating that the town of Cumberland accepted responsibility for the water mains and services for the property. An invoice for the work was thus the town’s responsibility to pay off.

Town Councilor Peter Bradley asked last week how many other similar situations are out there where the town might be responsible for a break if it occurs. Mayor Jeff Mutter said he’s not sure how many others there are, though he suspects there aren’t very many, and he shares the frustration of Bradley and other council members over this situation.

“How many could there be?” he responded to Bradley. “More than you like.”

Mutter said the total bill ended up exceeding $35,000. He said town officials are always trying to budget based on anticipated numbers, so to have a case where the job is already done and the town has no idea about it and now has the responsibility to address it is frustrating. When the work is already done, he said, the town can’t go through the typical bidding and procurement process, so there are “multiple layers of frustration.”

Mutter said the town has seen many employees come and go over the years, and this sort of situation sometimes falls through the cracks as there is no longer anyone around to explain how a certain arrangement came about.

Mutter responded to Bradley that he’ll get the council a full explanation on how the town ended up being liable for this work. Too many times, he said, officials are left “reacting to stuff you really shouldn’t have to” instead of being able to plan for future costs.