2018-02-01 / Front Page

Heating issue arises with Unit 91

By Grant McPherson Staff Writer

SACO – A heating failure in Saco Mill No. 4 on Saco Island highlights the complications between various property owners, including the city.

The system failed Friday, Jan. 5 and the heat was on and off for about 11 days. While the system is housed in Mill No. 4, it services residents of the Island Terrace Owners Association and Unit 91, the latter of which is owned by the city. Saco Island West, LLC, while they are no longer property owners on the island, was responsible for providing heating and cooling services to the Island Terrace Owners Association. Atlantic Comfort Systems, Inc., a Biddeford-based mechanical contracting company, has provided maintenance and emergency services for the past two years. The company’s president, Mark Tuller, wrote a letter to Sam Zaitlin of Saco Island West on Jan. 24 detailing the boiler’s situation.

Chinburg Properties completed renovations to Mill No. 4 last year and welcomed its first residents in April. Chinburg Properties partnered with LHL Holdings to renovate the Lincoln Mill in Biddeford last fall. That project is scheduled to begin this spring. Saco Island West sold Mill No. 4 in 2014. Its responsibility to service the boiler that provides heat to Island Terrace Owners Association ended last December and no organization was slated to takerover.

“This is a closed loop heat pump system which is approximately 30-plus years old,” Tuller wrote. “With the main components being an oil fired fin tube boiler, primary and secondary pumps – 1985 vintage – and a cooling tower on the roof, which looks like something out of the Jetsons, all of which are well beyond their life expectancy.”

Director of Code Enforcement Richard Lambert worked with technicians from Atlantic Comfort Systems between Jan. 5 and Jan. 7 to troubleshoot the system. The city’s electrical inspector, Marcel Desrosiers, helped identify the transformer as one of the main issues for the failure on Tuesday, Jan. 9

“We are the owners of Unit 91, which is a fairly decent sized percentage of Island Terrace Owners Association,” Lambert said. “We have somewhat of a stake in it. We’re trying to do what we can to push this in the right direction but it seems to have arrived at a stalemate. Things were just not getting done. It didn’t seem as though anybody was trying to arrive at a solution. This last outage really caused people to think this system is not going to last very much longer. If we end up with a catastrophic failure, we’ve got 90 families that don’t have heat in the middle of the winter, what do we do with these people?”

In November the city hired The Dunham Group, a Portland-based commercial real estate company, to list Unit 91 for $450,000.

In June 2017, Zaitlin wrote a letter to City Administrator Kevin Sutherland and Bob Keegan of Island Terrace Owners Association forecasting the situation that occurred last month.

“For nearly a year all of us have been involved in a process to find alternatives to the now 30-year-old HVAC system here on Saco Island,” Zaitlin wrote. “I am writing to express my concern that no viable alternatives have been settled upon yet. Great credit is due to the many folks who have regularly participated in our city-sponsored meetings as well as to the vendors who have provided a great deal of time and information in the process. Let me express my greatest fear: If something goes wrong with the boiler or associated systems, in the coldest months of the year, we will, of course, make every effort working with our vendor to restore service as quickly as humanly possible. However, should something catastrophic happen, such as a boiler tube springing a leak, we could face a situation for which there is no quick fix and therefore no heat for an unknown period of time. Then what?”

In a letter to the former president of Island Terrace Owners Association, Zaitlin wrote that the city’s Economic Development Director William Mann advised Island Terrace Owners Association not to replace the heating and cooling system in August 2017. Zaitlin wrote he was against the decision at the time and has since filed a formal complaint against Mann on Jan. 11.

“At the same time, but as a note of formal complaint, it has come to my attention, from several sources, that during these difficulties the city’s director of economic development was actively promoting the narrative that, (Kevin) Mattson, (Saco Island developer), neglected to order the oil,” thereby causing these mechanical problems,” Zaitlin wrote. “That public charge is entirely without merit and a complete falsehood. Clearly its intent was designed to inflame the Island Terrace Owners Association board during a time of great stress for everyone. Were this the first incident, we could dismiss it as an unfortunate mistake. And everyone makes an occasional mistake. However, going back all the way to late 2015, we have documented, for our own files, an easily-traceable pattern of similar slander from the same individual (Mann). False statements, made in public meetings, freely invoking the names of the principals of our company.

“This is unacceptable, and we’ve had enough of it. As in this example during the recent cold snap, injecting false information into a critical discussion only makes devising a solution that much more difficult.”

In a request for comment on the complaint, Sutherland wrote to The Courier that the city does not discuss personnel matters. Mann did not respond to a request for comment.

Sutherland emailed Zaitlin and Keegan on Wednesday, Jan. 17 and wrote that the heating system is on life support and would not last for the rest of the winter.

“We know the best option, financially and efficiently, is a natural gas boiler to replace the current boiler in the same location,” Sutherland wrote. “The city put a lot of time and resources to help the group come to that conclusion and what Sam helped bring to the group from a financial standpoint is still on the table. It is urgent that an agreement be reached.”

Zaitlin wrote that Saco Island West has spent about $20,000 replacing the boiler’s transformer, valves and burner assembly so far and it might have to spend another $13,000 on a new gun assembly and onboard compressor. As of Feb. 1, Island Terrace Owners Association will reimburse Saco Island West for the cost of the repairs.

“We’re crossing our fingers the system will continue to operate without much a problem,” Lambert said.

Contact Staff Writer Grant McPherson at news@inthecourier.com

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