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Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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Lake City/County News

Lake City Owns 643 Fire Hydrants In Columbia County. In 2008 it stopped inspecting them and didn't tell anybody.

Lake City owns 643 fire hydrants in Columbia County and 635 hydrants in Lake City. In 2008 Lake City stopped inspecting its fire hydrants in the County. They didn't tell anybody until March of 2011. The fear among some professional firefighters is that the fire department pulls up to a house in the County, they go to turn on the fire hydrant and the valve stem breaks loose because it's rusted or something's ruptured or broken. City Manager Johnson has not ordered or begun any inspections or maintenance of its fire hydrants in the County.

Between 2006 and 2008 the City ran water lines through the County from its new water plant.

County Manager Dale Williams: The City filed for utility easements on the County right-of-way to run their water lines and we issued them without charge.

While this was going on, in January 2007, David Kraus became City Manager. In August of 2007 Mr. Kraus resigned.

The Observer asked Mr. Kraus if he could shed any light on a fire hydrant controversy. Mr. Kraus told the Observer:  When I was City Manager, I was specifically informed by the City Council that I had nothing to do with utilities; I was not allowed to talk about the utilities; I was not allowed to do anything. Scott Reynolds [the Utility Director] was a separate but equal person. The utilities were the Greater Lake City Regional Utilities and not under the City Manager. The utilities were separate from the general government and Scott Reynolds was separate. I had no authority to tell them to maintain or not maintain fire hydrants. That was under the Greater Lake City Regional Utility Authority, not me.

The City's water lines were completed in 2008.

State code did not require the City to install fire hydrants in its new water lines.

The Observer e-mailed City Manager Johnson a list of questions regarding the fire hydrant ordinance, the inspection, maintenance, and the proposed billing. City Manager Johnson did not respond. Maybe tonight in City Hall he will have some answers.

The American Water Works Association requires that potable water lines shall have blow offs throughout the line. The City chose at great expense to install fire hydrants, which cost upwards of $1500 each, instead of blow off valves.

When the City began installing the water lines it was the fire department for the whole County, as the County fire department had not yet been established.

The prevailing thought in the City at the time was twofold:  What better thing can you do than to put a fire hydrant, which can be used as a blow off or a fire protection device. The hydrants were put there for the City's benefit.

Inspection stopped in 2008. The City did not tell anybody until 2011.

Until 2008 the City serviced the fire hydrants in both the City and the County. Then they stopped servicing those located within the County. They did not tell anybody until 2011.

County Manager Dale Williams: The way we see it, the City benefited by being able to sell residents in the County water, and the residents benefited by being able to have hydrants in their subdivisions, which lowered their ISO rating, which of course kept their fire insurance rates down.

The Observer:  Was maintenance or anything else discussed when the fire hydrants were installed beginning back in 2006?

County Manager Williams:  The City never asked us to maintain the fire hydrants. There was no agreement concerning fire hydrant maintenance. The City never asked us to make a contribution in kind.

The Observer:  Did you ever have any idea that the fire hydrants were not being maintained?

County Manager Williams:  No. The first I learned that the hydrants were not being maintained was when the Fire Chief told me that the City was not maintaining the fire hydrants. This was during the County's ISO review [2008]. We went out and maintained them ourselves during that period of time. After that time I had no reason to believe that the City was not maintaining their hydrants.

The County Manager continued: On April 26, 2011, I received a letter and some material from City Manager Johnson. I learned that the City had not inspected its fire hydrants in the County for the past five years. Chief Atkinson will be able to fill you in. I will have him give you a call.

The County Fire Chief fills in some blanks

In a conversation late Friday afternoon, Columbia County Fire Chief, Trey Atkinson, filled in some of the blanks.

The Observer:  Can you help me out a little bit with what happened during the County's ISO inspection?

Chief Atkinson:  During the inspection we realized that there were fire hydrants out in the County. We agreed to flow test those and do the inspections on them. We did that in conjunction with the City because they are their hydrants... At that time we found some hydrants that were out of service. They did not work. We made a list of those and gave them to the City. It was my understanding at that time, in 2008, that the City was going to maintain the hydrants and they had just fallen behind on the maintenance.

The Observer:  It's now three years later. When did you first discover that the City was not maintaining its hydrants in the County?

Chief Atkinson:  The first time after 2008 that I found out that the City was not maintaining the fire hydrants was in March of 2011.

The Observer:  Do you believe that the City should be maintaining those hydrants?

Chief Atkinson:  The American water Works Association says that the person that owns the hydrant is responsible for the maintenance, testing and care of those hydrants.

The Observer:  Was the City mandated to put in hydrants when they put in the water lines?

Chief Atkinson:  No. They did it for their own convenience. They could have put in blow off valves. As far as I know, there is no law that required the City to put in hydrants, nor were they ever asked to do that.

Epilogue

Tonight, Lake City has on its agenda a city ordinance which will allow it to bill the County for the maintenance and testing of the City's fire hydrants, which are located in their drinking water lines which are in the County. This ordinance will give the city the authority to pass a resolution setting the rates. At this time it is unknown what these rates are, although it is believed to be $133 a hydrant or $85,510.

The Observer e-mailed City Manager Johnson a list of questions regarding the ordinance, the maintenance, and the proposed billing.

City Manager Johnson did not respond. Maybe tonight in City Hall he will have some answers.

Comments  (to add a comment go here)

On August 1, 2010, "Concerned in the County" wrote from Lake City,

I just finished reading the article regarding the city's refusal to maintain county fire hydrants.  As I am moving out of the city limits and have a fire hydrant in front of my home, this concerns me.

If I need it, will that hydrant protect my home and property?  Another consideration for the county SHOULD be the possibility of a lawsuit should someone lose their home due to a faulty hydrant.  Can Lake City afford that?

This is just a bad situation all the way around.

Lake City, please step up to the plate and take care of this.

 

This work by the Columbia County Observer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 United States License.

 
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