24 november 2015 
Pay now and pay later

Pay now and pay later

ANDY OURIEL • JUL 10, 2015 AT 10:50 AM




New documents released by Erie County show officials had reports about the improper installation of pipes during construction of the $21 million rural water district 13 years ago.

The county received numerous complaints about pipes not being properly embedded into the ground and received recommendations that the water line be dug up and reinstalled correctly.

But county commissioners don't appear to have taken any action to fix the problems as they were occurring — or since — despite all the complaints they've received.

The failure to heed the warnings could cost water customers a lot more now and into the future. 

Read: Rate increase in July water bills cause sticker shock

The plastic PVC piping was touted as the centerpiece of a water line system marketed as low-maintenance with a 100-plus-year service life guarantee.

But the system has already had 39 recorded breaks since it debuted, which appears inconsistent with the promise of a high-quality and durable pipeline network. 

It's unknown how much the bad installation compromised the system or what the long-term repair costs of poor construction might total over the piping life expectancy, the year 2102. 

Longtime county commissioner Tom Ferrell, who spearheaded the project in 2002 and touts it as one of his major accomplishments, said water customers will likely be forced to pay for the damaged pipeline.   

Hush, hush, hurry up

In a quick resolution in April, Ferrell and county commissioner Bill Monaghan ambushed commissioner Pat Shenigo and voted to raise water rates 10.5 percent. The first price hike occurred this month, with two more scheduled for 2016 and 2017.

Shenigo asked for more information before they voted to raise the rate and drastically change the financial structure of the water districts, but Ferrell and Monaghan ignored his request for more public discussion. 

Since then, Ferrell and Monaghan have declined to provide any detailed responses to inquiries or responsive replies to questions. They've also taken no official action. 

Monaghan has complained recently the Register "makes up" news stories, but he has not provided substance for the complaint.

County spokesman and administrator Pete Daniel also complained about a minor error in one Register news article that was posted briefly at sanduskyregister.com before it was corrected.

But Monaghan has done a complete about-face on the water district since ditching Shenigo last year as his political ally and hitching his wagon to Ferrell's horse. 

And Daniel has interceded, providing conflicting information on several topics since the April vote while defending the county's decisions. He's vacillated in responses to questions about whether stone bedding to protect the pipeline was used; or not used; or whether it was used and just washed away.

It's "Yes" to all three, according to Daniel, who said he'd hoped information about the poor installation would not be reported because it would make the county look bad, giving it a "black eye."

At a recent county commission meeting, Ferrell suggested environmental services director Jack Meyers, the engineering firm and installer get together and talk about the reports and documents.

But those are the same people who for years had the very same reports detailing the problems, Shenigo said.

Shenigo wants the commission to authorize an independent review of what went wrong, why it happened and how much the damages will cost.

The request was not acted upon by Ferrell and Monaghan.

Take a closer look

Documents the county recently released in response to public records requests from the Register show: 

• A laboratory hired by the county in 2013 to test some damaged pipes concluded the segments were improperly connected during construction. The report recommended the pipe be dug up, replaced and reinstalled correctly.

• The water mains are prone to piercing and other damage from underground rock because a loose stone layer required to protect them was skipped during installation. 

• Representatives from the engineering firm hired to oversee construction, Burgess & Niple, and the contractor, Speer Bros. Inc., acknowledged problems with the installation during a meeting with county officials in 2002. Everybody agreed to do better going forward.

• The Erie County engineer’s office, which was not involved in the planning, building or funding for the project, warned county commissioners about how the bad installation could result in expensive repairs in the future.

• Huron Township trustees also warned them how the project wasn’t being built to the plans and proper specifications.

One option: Dig up pipes

There is a high likelihood that many joints in the pipeline were "overbelled," which means the pipes were improperly connected and pushed into each other, according to the 2013 report from Plastic Failure Labs.

Construction crews used the wrong machinery during installation and damaged the pipe segments.

The lab, hired by the county to test damaged pipe from the line, concluded the overbelling condition could cause "pipe failure at any time." 

"The only solution to this problem is to excavate the pipeline and reinstall the (pipes),” the report stated.

In June, the Register reported about additional documents — released earlier in response to a separate records request — showing construction crews didn't place protective stone around pipes. 

The decision to deep-six the stone will cause a higher and premature failure rate because the pipes will be stressed and break more often by jagged rock found underground, the documents show. 

Monaghan and Ferrell:

• Have refused to provide any detailed responses to inquiries since the quick vote in April.

• Seem reluctant to take any public action to address the issues.

• Don't appear interested in pursuing any action to determine how damaged the piping is and whether the damages can be collected from the pipe manufacturer or others involved in the project if the system was negligently installed.

It's also unknown how much of the 190 miles of pipeline has already been breached or what loss of revenue there might be with leaks in the system, resulting in water simply being pumped into the ground as it travels through a compromised system. 

Little bit of this, that

Daniel recently provided one county document he said supported the decision to not use the stone bedding during installation.


But the document actually shows if it isn't used that the system's durability is severely compromised.

The document Daniel provided from the American Water Works Association diagrams various methods for installing the water pipes and does show water lines can be installed without the protective stone.

But the diagram also clearly states the pipeline is "40 times stronger" when stone bedding is properly used versus when it's not.

It's a no-brainer, according to Shenigo, who said he still cannot understand why the stone wasn't used or why his fellow commissioners refuse to discuss the water line installation problems. 

“The document clearly shows that the pipe’s life expectancy is tied to proper installation. Bad installation will surely cause a shortened lifespan,” Shenigo said.

Shenigo is not the first person to ask questions and sound the alarm.

Erie County engineer Jack Farschman's office told Burgess & Niple, the engineering firm hired to oversee the construction, in a 2002 letter to get it together.  

“We have grave concerns about the damage to existing pavement surfaces and also future damage due to the construction practices being used,” the letter states. “The (county) will have expensive repairs to make. We do not want to have future expensive repairs due to poor work and failure to properly install the water main.”

Huron Township trustees echoed the sentiments, according to a 2002 letter they sent to Meyers. Meyers supervised construction of the rural water district. 

“It is not fair for the taxpayers of Huron Township to pay for road repairs because of poorly designed and improper supervision of the installation of water lines," the township's letter stated. "A number of people have stated that the water line should be removed and reinstalled properly.”

At a 2002 county meeting with representatives from Speer Bros. and Burgess & Niple, some of the installation mistakes were discussed. 

“Compacted granular backfill should have been used for the new water main on Camp Road but was not. All parties involved agreed that such an occurrence must not be allowed to happen again," according to a document summarizing major meeting points.

It's not clear whether Monaghan and Ferrell will ever intend to take any action to make a determination how to proceed.

Shenigo's effort to get a full review for an understanding of what occurred and how much it will cost to fix the pipeline has been stymied by the 2-1 vote margin against him on the commission board.



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