CAPE VINCENT — Several Cape Vincent residents — including the commissioner of the state Department of Agriculture and Markets — have refused to allow engineers on their property to verify whether unauthorized connections have been made to the town's Water District 2, according to a report.
The issue pits District 2 residents — who wish to maintain autonomy over the privately funded extensions — against town officials, who want every connection accounted for in case of an emergency.
The district has only three sanctioned users — Donald J. Mason, a former town councilman; Wesley A. Bourcy; and Darrel J. Aubertine and his wife, Margaret S., who own a Hell Street property, according to Jefferson County's tax map — who are hooked into the Development Authority of the North Country's regional water line on Favret Road.
Mr. Aubertine said if engineers hired by the town come knocking on his door again, he'd let them survey parcels within the district boundaries, but “not beyond.”
Cape Vincent's Town Council in April asked Fourth Coast Inc., Clayton, to conduct a ground survey, suspecting that private connections have been made by outside users without the town's knowledge.
“They don't have the right. Cape Vincent's only role in District 2 is reading the meters,” Mr. Aubertine said. “Water is sold from DANC, not Cape Vincent.”
Mr. Aubertine, who has been chairman of the town Zoning Commission, a Town Council member, chairman of the county Board of Legislators and a member of the state Assembly and Senate, is the state's agriculture commissioner.
Believing the issue stemmed from a “profound misunderstanding of the history and how the water district works,” he met with Supervisor Urban C. Hirschey and Councilman Brooks J. Bragdon on Aug. 12 but the town had “not made any particular effort to reach out” to him prior to that, Mr. Aubertine said.
“It's none of their business. We paid for it,” said Donald Mason, a former town councilman and district user. “It was fine for 15 years and now it's suddenly a problem? It's all private waterline. We paid for everything. If it needs repairing, we pay for it.”
There are no agreements in place with these unofficial customers, and they are not assessed with capital costs related to the maintenance and improvement of the water system, Fourth Coast's report said.
“The current user rate structure does not assess capital costs to the users outside the original district and subsequent district extension. It is recommended that capital costs be assigned to these users,” the report said.
But district residents believe they are unfairly targeted by the town board for political reasons — namely their favorable stance on commercial wind development — and do not like the idea of the town taking control of water lines installed entirely with private money by mapping out the lines and extending the district to include outside users.
“Water is provided beyond the original five district parcels to approximately 12 additional users based on our discussions with some of the residents and town staff,” Fourth Coast's report said. “Access to the properties to verify connection to the regional line was requested in several cases but denied.”
The town initially thought only six or maybe seven unofficial hookups were made.
Councilman John L. Byrne said the town government, as the commissioner of the water line in Cape Vincent, has every right to turn the water off if landowners continue to refuse to cooperate.
Mr. Mason responded, saying Water District 2 has no debt and the town's job simply is to collect the water usage bills owed to DANC and nothing more.
District resident Bourcy said the town cannot cut off his water supply under state law because of his farm animals.
While there were no reports of problems with the distribution lines, which are believed to be PVC pipes, the engineers recommended that “the location, size and type of pipe be verified for future maintenance” and “backflow prevention be installed at the point of connection” under state Department of Health guidelines.
Mr. Aubertine said the work was done properly — with meters and backflow preventions installed where they were needed — to make sure there would be no contamination issues down the road.
Supervisor Hirschey said the landowners are “semi-cooperative” and the town hopes it can get some answers within the next month.
The town also suspects district users dug under public roads to run unsanctioned water lines, but Fourth Coast was “unable to verify whether any lines are in the highway rights of way.”