FL - Water company leaves bad taste in residents' mouths

greenspun.com : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

Water company leaves bad taste in residents' mouths By MEGAN KINGSLEY (megan.kingsley@news-jrnl.com) Staff Writer BUNNELL - Less than a year after Ocean City Utilities spent nearly $1 million to resolve several critical problems affecting Beverly Beach's water supply, residents urged the County Commission to drive the utility company out of town.

About 50 residents from Beverly Beach and nearby unincorporated Painters Hill packed Monday's commission meeting, demanding Flagler County revoke Ocean City Utilities' franchise.

Ocean City Utilities serves about 400 customers on Flagler County's coastline, north of Flagler Beach and south of The Hammock.

The residents, led by Painters Hill newcomer Tom Lyons, told commissioners of poor water quality, inferior-tasting water and high utility bills.

The commission unanimously voted to refer the matter to a meeting of the Flagler County Regulatory Interim Authority. The commission makes up that board but cannot act unless it is meeting in that capacity.

None of the complaints heard Monday were as serious as those levied last year when residents were left without water for most of a weekend. The outage occurred after the utility company's conversion system broke down.

Two years before the outage, Circuit Court Judge Kim Hammond ordered the company to connect its water lines to Palm Coast Utility's, now Florida Water Services. After two years of construction, the nearly $1 million hookup, financed by grants and loans from the Department of Environmental Protection, was completed in January.

Commissioner Blair Kanbar said he was under the impression that the hookup had resolved the residents' concerns.

Not so, said Lyons, who spoke for about an hour Monday. He complained that the water pressure is still too weak. "It's annoying when you build a three-story home and you go in to take a shower and nothing comes out, just a little dribble," said Lyons, who is building a home in Painters Hill.

Because of the lack of pressure, the water won't reach the third-story fire sprinkler required in his new house, he said. Residents in parts of Painters Hill are required to have sprinklers because there are no fire hydrants in the area.

Another resident complained about the quality of the water. "We have to buy bottled water. You can't drink water that smells like chlorine," said Catherine Banach, a resident of Surfside Estates in Beverly Beach.

Though invited, Ocean City Utilities president Skip Hairelson did not attend Monday's meeting. Hairelson said Tuesday that Lyons orchestrated the attack on his company. "We have one person who does not want to put a sprinkler system in his house," he said.

He said the water is tested regularly and meets all state and local requirements.

His comments were echoed Tuesday by Diane K. Kiesling, a lawyer for the Flagler County Utility Regulatory Authority.

Kiesling said Lyons "wants better service than the law says Ocean City Utilities has to provide."

She added that the franchise could not be revoked without just cause. "You can't just go in and say 'we're taking your system away,'" Kiesling said.

Hairelson claims the residents at Monday's meeting were just angry about Ocean City Utilities' rates.

Although the rates are already the highest in Flagler County, Ocean City plans to raise them again Sept. 5.

Hairelson said residents were told about the price increase two years ago and added that the increase is actually less than expected. The rates are high because of the outstanding state loans, he said.

Ocean City Utilities charges a monthly fee of $36.33. In addition, customers pay $5.27 per 1,000 gallons of water used and $4.44 per 1,000 gallons of sewage discharged. In contrast, Florida Water charges a monthly fee of $24.24. Additionally, it charges $3.92 per 1,000 gallons of water and $3.36 per 1,000 gallons of sewage.


-- Doris (reaper1@mindspring.com), August 23, 2000

Moderation questions? read the FAQ