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Cape Vincent could force water district expansion to include outside users

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CAPE VINCENT — The town is now deciding whether to force users to expand Water District 2 to include 12 waterline connections established outside its geographical boundary, which appear to violate rules established with the district’s creation in 1997.

The town has known since 2012 about those unregulated connections, which could cause contamination to enter the regional water system. But it has not taken corrective action.

Former state Agriculture and Markets Commissioner Darrel J. Aubertine, who works for the state comptroller as special assistant for external affairs, has seven property owners connected to his service.

He previously told the Times that waterline connections to users outside the district were built by residents in 1997. He has claimed that the state Department of Health, the Development Authority of the North Country and Town Attorney Mark G. Gebo all approved the plan made by residents to build those outside connections. Even so, minutes from meetings in 1997 indicate that no formal approval for that project was documented by the town. Rules established for District 2 do not give users authority to establish connections outside its geographical boundaries, according to the formation document. The document states that connections made directly to DANC’s waterline are allowed to expand the district.

In addition, Mr. Gebo said Monday he doesn’t recall any discussion in 1997 about connections being built to users outside District 2. The formation document lists four parcels of land included in District 2; any parcels beyond those geographical boundaries are not part of the district.

“It just doesn’t make any sense to me that if we knew there were other users, we wouldn’t have included them in the district,” Mr. Gebo said. “Normally, if we know there are people who are going to be using the water, we would include them in the district.”

The town is investigating the legality of outside connections in the district, and whether users can legally resell water to outside connections, Mr. Gebo said. The town could decide to expand Water District 2 to include users with outside connections. The Town Council has discussed multiple options to solve the issue, Mr. Gebo said.

“I don’t know what the town may or may not do,” he said, declining to provide specifics. “There are a number of options, and all of the options have pluses and minuses. There is a hope, obviously, that we can do this in some sort of cooperative way without anyone getting hurt. But obviously, with the letter from the DOH, the town is focused on solving the issue.”

The formation document for Water District 2, approved in September 1997, states the town may force users to comply with actions to prevent contamination.

Language in the district formation document from 1997 makes it clear that the town, not the state Department of Health, is ultimately responsible for ensuring the district is maintained properly.

“The property owner has the responsibility of maintenance within the property beyond the outlet curb stop,” the document states. “The District may notify a property owner to make certain repairs on the owner’s property if the failure to repair would affect the water system. The failure to timely make such repairs shall be grounds for termination of service.”

The town decided to revisit the issue this spring after the DOH recommended a course of action. The effort comes after the town hired Fourth Coast Inc., of Clayton, in the summer of 2012 to investigate outside connections in the district. It backed down from that investigation, though, after users in the district, including Mr. Aubertine, refused to allow engineers on their property. The district has three active users who draw water, all of whom have established connections to outside users.

In its April 7 letter, the DOH recommended the town expand District 2 to include outside connections so that water may be tested regularly for contamination. If the town can’t expand the district because of opposition from users, the DOH recommended that a backflow-prevention device be installed to ensure contamination doesn’t flow downstream to users along the regional waterline operated by DANC. That 20-mile line runs from Cape Vincent to Brownville.

The DOH letter may be viewed online at http://wdt.me/yKrpYN.

Calls Monday to Supervisor Urban C. Hirschey and Mr. Aubertine were not returned.

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