MARCO ISLAND — When playing a card game of high or low, there isn’t an option of no. However, when it comes to the questions raised about high and low water pressure on Island, including whether council will address those concerns very soon— the answer appears to be “no.”
“There wasn’t time to publicly advertise it,” said Council Chairman Rob Popoff.
City Manager Steve Thompson said, “We’re not preparing any more information on the water pressure issue.”
Instead, planned utility projects will dominate the council meeting scheduled 5:30 p.m. Monday at 51 Bald Eagle Drive.
Marco resident Tarik Ayasun, who has served on several school and city boards over the years, raised several questions of the city and utility including: When did the city raise the water pressure from the plant? Who did it? Why?
The answers, respectively, are: August; at least four utility managers and the plant operator; because water pressure was too low in at least 14 areas of the Island.
Thompson, consultants hired by the city and Utility Director Rony Joel concurred that water pressure was so low that minimum state requirements and fire suppression requirements were not always being met.
Initially, Popoff was not satisfied with their answers. However, Thompson responded that he didn’t know how else to satisfy the concerns besides to hire another outside consultant to concur with their reports.
Popoff said Thursday evening that he is now confident and hopes that confidence can be restored with residents as well.
“After digging into this, I don’t think it was done to increase revenue.”
The problem was that residents didn’t understand what they needed to do to avoid problems caused by the pressure increases at that plant.
Thomspon shared data that all utilities adjust water pressure at their plants and Naples as well as Collier County increase water pressure to levels higher than Marco has.
“I was skeptical. It was a very believable thing given the circumstances,” Popoff said.
Former City Councilwoman Terri DiSciullo said she also was skeptical and is reviewing Marco utility data before she plans to draw a conclusion on the issue.
The circumstances that raised concern include a utility that is hurting for money and considering more annual rate increases following the 9.5 percent rate increase in October 2009.
“There were also a few city employees saying that the city was increasing the water pressure to increase the revenue,” Popoff said.
He now concurs with Thompson that the problem was lack of communication about how increasing the water pressure at the plant might affect residents rather than a problem of motive.
“It adversely affected some people’s water bills and they should have been forewarned... I don’t think anyone would have questioned it then. Instead, there seemed to be a shroud of secrecy about it,” Popoff said.
He added that water pressure issues were discussed with the utility advisory board and with council, but it was not clearly communicated to them, or the public, how much bills might increase and what they could do to avoid any problems.
That is why Thompson docked the pay of four utility personnel for lack of communication.
Councilman Ted Forcht said he doesn’t see a reason to question why the water pressure was increased.
Ayasun is not so confident.
“This issue is not over,” Ayasun said Thursday evening.
He added that despite reports from officials that his problems were a combination of issues, not just water pressure increases, he does not concur.
Ayasun’s house was flooded earlier this week, compounding problems of burst sprinkler heads and a December bill that doubled his usual bill.
He said he is personally satisfied that the utility worked to cut that bill back down, but is concerned for other residents.
Thompson said any residents can contact the utility’s customer service individually to workout their specific problems.
Thompson added that while his staff has said Ayasun’s problems do not appear to be caused by increased water pressure, they are continuing to work with Ayasun.
About 50 customers, out of about 20,000, have contacted the utility with concerns about their bills. As for damage from the increased pressure, Thompson said he isn’t aware of any.
Residents can take several steps to avoid problems, including irrigating their lawns between 4 and 8 p.m., instead of between 4 and 8 a.m., which is approximately when water pressure is often increased at the plant. They may also install pressure regulators at a cost of about $250, Joel has advised.
This is the information that Popoff said should have been disseminated to all utility customers before increasing the pressure. Instead, the first notice came in October by Thompson in a Weekly Update, which was posted to marconews.com, but Popoff said it still wasn’t clear precisely what customers should do to avoid the most recent concerns raised. That information would best come from a utility expert, he and Thompson said.
“Nobody is perfect... We have to learn from this,” added Popoff.
Council will consider:
- A grant from the South Florida Water Management District up to $460,000 to be matched by the city to pay for continuing improvements to the reclaimed water production facility, increasing the plant’s rate capacity from 3.5 million gallons per day to five million gallons per day to accommodate the Septic Tank Replacement Program (STRP.)
- A change order to the reclaimed water facility project, increasing the spending for the project by a net amount of $91,135, after some savings were found in other areas of the project.
The reuse facility project’s design by Camp, Dresser and McKee at a cost of $445,060, to be paid with STRP assessments.
- Replacing a security wall and fencing to meet new state requirements at the North Plant, The cost of $105,777 was quoted by the low bidder, Boran Craig Barber Engel.
- Paying G&G Industries $1,125,355 for South Plant upgrades to include replacing 16 inoperative, leaky water valves; installing new lines to allow more water flow from the North Plant to the South Plant and a larger diameter treated-water main to meet state fire flow requirements.
- Designing a new ultraviolet disinfection plan for the North Water Treatment Plant to meet state requirements. The project’s design is to cost $195,604, to be paid to CH2MHILL. Joel reports an annual savings of $130,000 from the project, which is scheduled for completion in fiscal 2011 at a cost of $1.2 million.
- Design of the last STRP district, the Estates District, by AECOM/Boyle at a cost of $597,000.
- Creation of a Utility Advisory Board to have five members with staggered terms. Six residents, including Frank Nocifora, Richard Bergmann, Ken Honecker, Robert Brown, Amadeo Petricca and Dave Rasmussen, applied.
- Creation of a policy to rename city buildings other than parks, which already have a naming process. Council will consider whether to use a similar process as the Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee, which publicly advertises for names, holds a public meeting and then forwards suggestions to council. While council approved renaming City Hall in honor of the late E. Glenn Tucker, Marco’s longest serving council member, the formal name hasn’t yet been announced.
More agenda issues are online.