Liberty questions AV’s unauthorized water use (June 13, 2016)

APPLE VALLEY — Liberty Utilities is questioning the town’s ability to safely manage a water system after members of town staff were involved in the unauthorized use of the company’s water on the Apple Valley Golf Course.

An investigation conducted by Liberty after an April 29 incident revealed town staff broke the lock on a vault that houses the company’s meter and control valve, Liberty’s General Manager Tony Penna told the Daily Press.

A letter written by Penna — obtained by the Daily Press — showed that town staff activated the service for the golf course without authorization, which resulted in the use of what Liberty’s Superintendent of Operations Carol Thomas-Keefer later calculated as approximately 869,000 gallons of water between April 29 and May 2.

The town incurred a bill amounting to $6,754.61 as a result of the unauthorized use, according to Thomas-Keefer.

In a typical situation where water is stolen or taken without our knowledge or authorization, Penna wrote to Town Manager Frank Robinson, we traditionally address such actions by making a formal criminal report to the authorities.

Penna spoke to illegal action in the letter, but told the Daily Press authorities weren’t involved because he wants to improve the company’s relationship with the town, which is dysfunctional in his opinion, adding that concern over public safety is the real issue.

You have the opportunity when you have two different systems that they get cross-connected, and water flows in two directions, Penna said. So what were to happen if water came from their system (into ours)? We didn’t test that water. We didn’t disinfect it. I had no idea what the water quality was … Were public health issues considered, or was there somebody on staff who even recognized the potential for them?

Robinson, who was briefed on the April 29 incident by the town’s Director of Public Works Greg Snyder, said he apologized to Penna by phone for what he described as a breakdown in communication after a power surge knocked out the pumps to the town’s well that services the golf course.

Golf course staff notified town staff of the situation, Robinson said, and Snyder was then contacted.

His direction to them was to contact Liberty, Robinson said, (to) go to the location where the meter is and where the backflow is, and have Liberty come out there to … make arrangements to get the water turned back on so that we can water while we get the pump and everything replaced.

Something happened — a breakdown in communication between our staff and the golf course staff — and instead of doing that they did just the opposite. They turned the water back on before … Liberty was contacted.

Robinson added there was never any intent on the town’s part to steal water or break into the vault.

Thomas-Keever, however, said the incident raises another concern linked to the town’s eminent domain action against Liberty for ownership of the water system.

It makes me wonder, though, what type of a utility operator they really would be, she said.

Robinson declined to comment on the remark, but said procedures have been enacted to ensure an adequate water supply in the event of future pump failure.

Thomas-Keefer provided information related to stand-by service that would allow activation in the future, but Robinson declined the service, citing the town’s new waterstoring procedures as a sufficient back-up plan.

As a result, Penna said Liberty will remove the meter to prevent future unauthorized use.

Source: Matthew Cabe, Daily Press