2016-11-24 / Front Page

OOB keeps eye on hydrants

By Anthony Aloisio
Staff Writer

OLD ORCHARD BEACH – Town Manager Larry Mead has expressed concern over the risks posed by privately owned fire hydrants in Old Orchard Beach. Private hydrants are distinct from public hydrants in that they are infrastructure owned by private developers rather than owned by the utility – Maine Water Company, in the case of Old Orchard Beach. The more important distinction for private hydrants is that the utility is not responsible for maintaining them.

“The responsibility for those, it varies, it’s up to the property manager, or the homeowners’ association, the condominium association,” Mead said at a Nov. 1 town council meeting. “There’s no guarantee that those are being flushed or maintained.”

Fire hydrants are built to last a long time, according to Maine Water Vice President of Operations Rick Knowlton, but they still encounter problems that require maintenance. The obvious danger with malfunctioning hydrants is that firefighters could be substantially incapacitated in trying to put out a building fire.

“The most common things are snowplow accidents in wintertime,” Knowlton said. Another common problem, Knowlton said, is that a leaky hydrant might fill the barrel up with water and then freeze, which can crack the hydrant. Corrosion of smaller parts of a hydrant can also cause problems.

Private hydrants come to exist when a developer weighs the decision whether or not to keep ownership of the hydrants.

“We say to the developer, we can provide public service to the entrance to this development,” Knowlton said, “or we can provide public water service throughout the development if you construct the water system in accordance with the standards that we would need to take over the system.”

Developers make a case-by-case decision on whether the costs to meet the utility’s standards are justified, depending on the characteristics of the development. With private hydrants, a new development must still meet some of the utility’s standards, and the town’s planning board still ultimately requires a working hydrant, but some standards are lessened. The materials used, for example, Knowlton said, might be different.

“In the short term, they may view (private hydrants) as a less expensive option,” Knowlton said.

Old Orchard Beach has 59 private hydrants, according to Knowlton. Their locations include Dunegrass, Cider Hill Association, Brookside Condo Association, Atlantic Park Condo Association, Atlantic Village, Beechwood Condos, Seacoast RV Resort, Jameson Woods Condo Association, Ocean Park Meadow Condo Association, Pilgrim Place Condo Association, Pinewood Manor and Whispering Sands Owners’ Association.

Municipalities pay a fire protection charge to Maine Water to annually inspect the public hydrants, to maintain them, and for the water service to them, according to Knowlton. Old Orchard Beach has 216 public hydrants and pays about $13,000 per month. Saco has 418 and pays about $25,000 per month. Biddeford has 477 and pays about $28,000.

Private hydrant owners still have to pay for the water service and an annual inspection is included, Knowlton said. Private fees range from $40 to $70 per hydrant. When maintenance of a private hydrant is required, owners can opt to hire Maine Water to perform it, although they’re not required to. Parts and labor add up to about $200, according to Knowlton.

As far as local governmental regulation, Knowlton said, communities vary.

“Some communities literally force the developer to extend the public system,” Knowlton said.

So far, Old Orchard Beach isn’t contemplating such strong measures.

“We want to look at whether or not we can, when any kind of project goes through the planning board or an administrative review and we know there’s going to be a private hydrant,” Mead said at the Nov. 1 meeting, “we build into that some kind of assurances we would have going forward that the hydrants are going to be maintained on an annual basis.”

“My suggestion was that as part of the planning board approval a condition be established that requires the owner to document the means and method for annual maintenance and testing,” Mead later wrote in an email.

Contact Staff Writer Anthony Aloisio at news@inthecourier.com.

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