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Cape Vincent sets meeting Saturday to discuss expanding flawed water district

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CAPE VINCENT — Following advice from the state Department of Health to prevent contamination in Water District 2, the Town Council will discuss expanding it to include users with outside connections during a special public meeting at 5 p.m. Saturday at the town office, 1964 Route 12E.

The board has invited three active users in District 2 to discuss its plans, including former state Agriculture and Markets Commissioner Darrel J. Aubertine, who works for the state comptroller as special assistant for external affairs. Mr. Aubertine has seven properties with outside connections to his service on Hell Street. The two other users, who also have outside connections, are Donald J. Mason, a former town councilman who lives at 4670 Favret Road, and Wesley A. Bourcy, who operates a dairy farm at 4224 Branche Road.

Twelve outside connections were documented during a 2012 study completed by Fourth Coast Inc. of Clayton. Those connections extend outside the geographical boundary of District 2, which is connected to the regional waterline operated by the Development Authority of the North Country. The district was formed in 1997.

Council members will discuss with users how District 2 might be expanded to include outside connections during the meeting Saturday, Town Attorney Mark G. Gebo said. Expanding the district would enable the town to bill all users with connections directly, according to their metered water usage. The town also would test water routinely for contamination to ensure it meets Health Department standards under that plan.

In particular, the town is concerned about the potential of contaminated water entering the regional waterline.

“The town wants to make sure it’s doing everything right so it can meet requirements from regulatory agencies and make sure the water is safe,” Mr. Gebo said. “We’re trying to get some cooperation to solve this so that it’s not an ongoing discussion and problem. I think board members are open to a range of options, a long as they cover the town’s obligation. That obligation is to make sure the water is potable, which means it’s not being mixed with unfiltered water from other sources.”

Mr. Gebo said users in District 2 could submit a petition to expand the boundary to include outside users. Failing that, the town could attempt to establish the larger district on its own initiative. Users would have the authority to reject the town’s plan under that scenario, however, by forcing a vote with a permissive referendum.

“One way or the other, the district expansion requires the cooperation of users,” Mr. Gebo said.

He said he met with board members three times last month, on May 8, 16 and 21, to discuss issues related to the expansion of District 2.

Planning efforts by the town were spurred by a letter it received in April from the Health Department that urged it to take control of Water District 2 from its three sanctioned users. The letter also suggested that if the town is unable to expand the district, it should install a backflow-prevention device to ensure outside connections do not contaminate water flowing downstream along the regional waterline.

About 20 miles long, the DANC line runs from Cape Vincent to Brownville along the old New York Central Railroad corridor.

A backflow-prevention device was installed in 1997 when District 2 was formed, at a meter pit operated by the town next to the DANC line. But Mr. Gebo said that the device was meant to serve only the three documented connections within the district’s boundary; more equipment likely is needed to prevent contamination at waterlines outside the boundary.

“We need to find out whether other backflow prevention needs to be used,” Mr. Gebo said. “If Darrel Aubertine has extended his line to other properties beyond it, how does he know that he’s not getting backflow on his property? We need to find out whether we need to upgrade the backflow prevention beyond the water pit.”

Mr. Aubertine said Friday that he is willing to cooperate with the town and Health Department to address issues in District 2.

“We’d have to define what the issue is,” he said. “I can’t speak for all of the users, but we can certainly work with the Health Department or anyone else to address the concerns they might have.”

Councilman Paul F. Aubertine, Mr. Aubertine’s son, said he was not contacted about board meetings in May with Mr. Gebo. Although Paul Aubertine has decided not to be directly involved in planning efforts for the District 2 expansion because of what could be perceived as a conflict of interest, he said the town should have at least notified him about the meetings.

“I don’t want to be a direct principal, because I don’t want to have a conflict of interest and people going after me for that,” Mr. Aubertine said. “I don’t have any stake in Water District 2, but I’d like to be kept up to speed and know about the town having a meeting with its attorney. With as much of a hot-button issue that this is, I would like to think they’d let us all know.”

Paul Aubertine said he was away on a honeymoon vacation last month for about two weeks, making him unavailable to attend the most recent meeting. Mr. Aubertine was the only board member absent from that meeting.

Supervisor Urban C. Hirschey said Mr. Aubertine wasn’t contacted by the town about the May 21 meeting because it was known he could not attend.

Mr. Aubertine, employed by H. Wood Farms, married Kari M. Chavoustie on May 17. He said they have bought a house on Route 12E in the town.

Mr. Aubertine said he doesn’t know what the town intends to accomplish by hosting a meeting with District 2 users. He noted that users were responsible for bearing the cost of installing waterlines outside the district in 1997.

“As far as the intent of the town, I don’t know what their end game is, other than getting users to turn over this private waterline that they’ve invested a lot of private money into and had for 18 years,” he said.

Mr. Hirschey said that the goal of Saturday’s meeting is to reach a consensus with District 2 users on what should be done to address concerns raised by the Health Department. In particular, he said, the goal will be to address the water contamination problem.

“We need to assure ourselves that they’re not going to hurt themselves; but number two, that they’re not going to hurt anybody else” with contaminated water, Mr. Hirschey said. “We need to have backflow preventers that will protect the DANC line, so it’s an issue mostly of safety. And there are other people that would like to be hooked up to that line, so it would be nice if it would be a more conventional district.”

The following board and staff members attended closed Water District 2 meetings with Mr. Gebo in May:

May 8: Mr. Hirschey, Councilman John L. Byrne III, Deputy Supervisor Richard H. MacSherry and Deputy Highway Superintendent David J. Croft.

May 16: Mr. Hirschey and Mr. Byrne.

May 21: Mr. MacSherry, Mr. Hirschey, Mr. Byrne, Councilwoman Michelle T. Oswald and Councilman Brooks J. Bragdon.

Mr. Byrne and Mr. Bragdon declined to comment, and Mrs. Oswald could not be reached for comment.

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