I feel that I owe the residents of the Village of Union Springs a better explanation than the one that was published in the Auburn Citizen.
While I was out of state, I received a call from a reporter at the Citizen. I can assure you that in the quite long conversation we had that I went into a great deal more detail than, apparently, their print space would allow. This may be a bit long but I will attempt to clarify the information I relayed to said reporter, and more.
I started with the best historical information that I could provide. I also pointed out that I have only been Mayor for 1 year and 7 months. As the mayor I inherited all of the wonderful aspects and assets of our charming community. I also got the warts. And as I have stated in other writings, we have an aging infrastructure which includes our municipally owned hydrants. I don’t have the details (and wouldn’t have given names), but I have to believe that the people who gave me the information as to how our hydrant system got to where it is today, are credible.
In mid-2016 I was told that our hydrants situation was a combination of not knowing which hydrants worked and of the fact that our hydrants hadn’t been exercised in years (making it harder to prioritize repair/replacement). This was a surprise to me as I have lived in small villages/towns all of my life and I know how, and by who, the hydrants are exercised. The information that I received at that time was there had been a previous dispute between the Village and the Springport Fire Department and that the fire department stopped exercising the hydrants within the village. I have been told a couple of versions as to why, but it didn’t matter as we as a Village are responsible as owners of the water supply and in this case the hydrants.
I was both naïve and did not ask how we could make the exercising process work without the cooperation of the fire department. But we did start working on an aggressive schedule of replacement. As there had been few hydrant replacements in the recent years before I had joined the Board, we decided that swapping 3 hydrants out a year would be a good start. Please remember that each hydrant replacement costs over $3000 each and involves our whole Public Works crew as well as the shutting down of some water service. Each also involves coordinating the filling of our municipal water towers and the work takes the better part of a full day. We scheduled and budgeted for this process to start in 2017, again within my first full year.
And then there was a fire at the SDA Academy!
I did not go to the fire, but I received many reports from both the SDA staff and our Village Code Officer. The Village also offered whatever help we could to their community. I have never been a firefighter so I let the local volunteers and professionals do their job. Unfortunately there was a village hydrant near the fire that they could not make operational. And while they stated that it did not cause major problems in the context of the fire suppression itself, it certainly raised red flags for all of us.
This started a domino effect in how we as a Village determined our next move(s) in our long range plans. It apparently triggered a new plan for the Fire Department also. They (unknown to me) began exercising our hydrants starting on the north end of the village. Again out of the first three they worked on, there was one that was inoperable, and they stopped there. The Chief also sent an email asking what steps we were taking to resolve these problems. We responded by replacing the unit across from the High School and proceeded to exercise (or attempt to) all of the remaining hydrants, throughout the village. We found 14 that we were not able to open, or were not yet comfortable attempting to force open.
We cataloged them all in a list and forwarded that to the Chief. Because not everyone could identify which ones we could not open, he suggested we put an out-of-order bag over each of the 14, which we did.
That is the story of the bagged hydrants. But there is more. There are 54 hydrants within the Village. Of the 14 that are bagged we know that 4 are totally inoperable. There are 10 which we will slowly work to pry open and hopefully not break. Of these all of the 10 may work or maybe only some of them. The problem is of opening one which then cannot be closed.
And lastly we have been working with our Engineers (MRB Group) to come up with a short term and long term plan for all of our earlier mentioned infrastructure. That is Water, Sewer, Streets, Equipment, Sidewalks and Hydrants. As I have said before this will be a long project and an expensive one. We are working on a quicker fix for the hydrants that include putting insertion vales as shut offs for all of our aging and problem units. Some of them are older models and should be replaced with newer, more efficient ones.
Now let me address the article in the Citizen. The most important problem that I had with it was the title. There is no conflict between the Chief and myself. We may have conflicting views of the solution and timelines, but as I do not personally know the Chief there can be no “conflict”. I respect the work that our (and all) of the volunteer fire department do. And I (we) believe that safety is a priority. Newspapers write headline to sell papers. In this case I gave the Citizen much of what I have written here and as I mentioned before, maybe they didn’t have room. But their article left out enough to support the headline and I find that disingenuous.
Village of Union Springs