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December 10, 2016
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Melody Lake water takeover; The town steps in when private operators fail

MONTICELLO, NY — According to town attorney Michael Mednick, the Town of Thompson is 90% complete with the process of taking over a private water company for the Melody Lake subdivision, which the town has been operating since February, 2013.

The waterworks plant sits on a parcel of land of about 3.79 acres, which was foreclosed on by the county because of nonpayment of taxes. The county has offered to sell the property to the town for the amount of back taxes, about $2,100. At the town meeting on March 4, Supervisor Bill Rieber said he would ask the county legislature for a hardship reduction.

If the town had not agreed to become the temporary operator, about 30 families living in Melody Lake would have had no easy way to bring water into their homes.

The water system serving the subdivision has a checkered past. Part of the system was built back in 1954, and according to an order issued by the New York State Public Service Commission (PSC) that part of the system has been plagued with leaks and related low water pressure for years. A second portion of the system was built 10 years later and is in somewhat better condition.

The Department has issued of numerous citations regarding the plant dating back to 1999, when it was owned and operated by National Aqueous Corporation. The complaints were for such things as “inadequate distribution pressure, failure to maintain free chlorine residual in the distribution system, and monitoring violations.”

A company called White Knight purchased the water company and began operating it in January 2011, but by July 2012 were already asking the PSC for permission to abandon the system. A PSC document says, “The company maintains that abandonment is the only option and recommends that residents drill their own wells and provide applicable treatment to obtain safe drinking water.”

White Knight said a complete overhaul of the system would cost $2 million, and that funds could not be raised.

White Knight said it served 65 homes; 11 homes were vacated, 38 customers were in good standing; and the bills rendered to nine customers are extremely past due.

The PSC conducted a survey of the residents of Melody Lake and found that 24 of them were in favor of petitioning the town to form a water district, while only seven favored allowing individual wells to provide water.

The Department of Health was opposed to allowing wells in a subdivision served by a central water system.

White Knight effectively abandoned the facility on September 28 without permission from the PSC, leaving no one in charge of the aging facility. After that, town officials applied to become the temporary operator of the facility with several conditions, including one which would allow them to abandon the agreement within 30 days.

The PSC’s order granting approval for the town to become the temporary operator of the plant says, “The town is willing to undertake the burdens of operating a system apparently on the verge of collapse, when it exercises an obligation to protect its other residents. Authorizing abandonment on 30 days notice adequately balances the interests of Melody Lake homeowners and town residents and is reasonable in these unique circumstances.”