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DOH decides private water system in Cape Vincent meets regulations

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CAPE VINCENT — The town has backed down from efforts to expand District 2 after the state Department of Health conducted a June inspection of user Darrel J. Aubertine’s private water system and found no issues.

On June 11, the DOH inspected seven outside connections that stem from Mr. Aubertine’s connection in District 2 and concluded the private system meets sanitary regulations, resolving concerns it expressed in an April letter to the town about contamination and illegal connections. According to a June 18 letter from the DOH to Mr. Aubertine, who is among three District 2 users with outside connections, the inspection determined his water system to be in “substantial compliance” with state Sanitary Code requirements. The letter, obtained from the town by a Freedom of Information request, appears to resolve doubts about the legitimacy of connections in District 2 that surfaced in 2012, when the town hired Fourth Coast Inc. of Clayton to investigate the location of private waterlines; a total of 12 connections outside the geographical boundary of the district were documented. The letter is available online at http://wdt.me/T5WLL4.

Formed in 1997, District 2 is served by a regional waterline operated by the Development Authority of the North Country that runs from Cape Vincent to Brownville.

Mr. Aubertine, former state Agriculture and Markets commissioner who works for the state comptroller as special assistant for external affairs, has seven properties linked to his Hell Street connection that are outside the boundary of District 2. Five of those connections are used to provide water for human consumption, according to the June DOH letter. The DOH told the town in April that an individual water supplier with five or more service connections may be regulated as a public water system that would require routine testing for contamination. But after investigating Mr. Aubertine’s system in June, the DOH decided not to require such testing as an exception to that rule, according to the letter. The letter reports that the state is allowed to use discretion in such cases to determine minimum requirements.

The DOH did not inspect outside connections that stem from the two other sanctioned users in District 2. Those users are Donald J. Mason, a former town councilman who resides at 4670 Favret Road and has three connections, and Wesley A. Bourcy, who operates a small dairy farm at 4224 Branche Road and has two connections.

Mr. Aubertine scheduled the DOH inspection of the private water system without assistance from the town. The move was made after the town held several meetings in May to develop a course of action to address DOH concerns about District 2. In April, the DOH sent a letter to the town urging it to take control of District 2 from its three sanctioned users, expanding it to include properties with outside connections. The letter suggested that a backflow-prevention device might have to be installed to prevent contamination of water flowing downstream in the DANC line.

But the June letter by Claude A. Curley, assistant engineer for the DOH, appears to resolve those concerns. The DOH reported that the distribution system from Mr. Aubertine’s connection was built with 3-inch PVC piping. No individual wells are connected to the system, and no risks of backflow contamination were detected, the DOH reported. All outside connections have water meters.

Town Supervisor Urban C. Hirschey said Tuesday that the town is satisfied with the results of the DOH inspection and will not consider expanding the district. He said he is not concerned that the DOH hasn’t inspected outside connections from the district’s other two users.

“I’m satisfied with the results of the DOH letter, and I think we ought to leave it be,” he said. “If we get requests from residents to expand it, I think the town would be receptive. All of the rest of the water districts have come about because the people have wanted them.”

Mr. Aubertine said Tuesday that he is pleased the inspection resolved what he described as unfounded suspicions from the town that connections in District 2 might be illegal.

“After two years of being accused of stealing water and not having a proper water system, I felt that it was time to resolve this,” he said. “Time and again, I and other people have told board members there were no improprieties, that this district was formed with the help of the town and board in 1997. It’s frustrating that the town board refused to take a reasonable approach to learn about this water system. I believe an apology is in order, or at least a recognition that for two years some of us have been unduly vilified.”

When Fourth Coast was hired by the town in 2012 to investigate outside connections, some property owners refused to allow engineers on their property. Mr. Aubertine said he personally didn’t deny access to engineers, but others did. He said the study was unwarranted.

The town “spent money to do a study that was clearly unneeded,” Mr. Aubertine said. “Why should I, or any other member of District 2, be forced to do a study when we told the town in advance that we would work with them?”

Mr. Aubertine said that there is an array of issues involving other water districts the town should address. In April, the town board agreed to allow a group of a residents to form a citizens committee to make recommendations for how users in Districts 2 and 3 should be charged, according to a formula developed by the town. But during its May meeting, the board approved its revised formula without reviewing recommendations in a report developed by the committee.

That committee’s report recommended the town form a citizens water advisory board that would meet regularly to oversee water operations on behalf of town residents.

Mr. Aubertine, who originally proposed the idea to launch the citizens committee, said he hopes the town will consider doing so. He said there are lingering concerns that need to be addressed in Districts 1, 3 and 4, along with the current formation of District 6. He contended that residents with institutional knowledge about the districts could help guide the board’s decisions.

“I think the town is making a huge mistake by not making that a standing committee, and putting one or two board members on it to learn about how these water districts were constructed, how the debt service works, and the relationship with the Development Authority of the North Country,” he said.

Town Attorney Mark G. Gebo was not available for comment Tuesday afternoon.

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