$8 million water line overhaul to begin

Service will improve, but bills will increase

May 21, 1999|By Jackie Powder | Jackie Powder,SUN STAFF

After nearly five years of pressure from Brooklyn Park residents, the county is set to begin a three-year, $8 million overhaul of 23 miles of deteriorating water lines in their neighborhood.

For residents, the project will mean better water pressure, clearer water and higher water bills, as Anne Arundel County takes ownership of the water system, which Baltimore City has operated since 1929.

"My personal opinion is this is something that should never have taken this long to get resolved," said Woody Bowen, a longtime Brooklyn Park resident who was instrumental in persuading the county to take control of the system.

"The major concern up here is that it's taken all these years to get through the red tape," said Bowen, vice president of the Olde Brooklyn Park Community Association.

"It's been a long time coming," agreed Arlene Hodges, association president. "I think it was one of those things that was shoved back and wasn't on the front burner because we were still being provided water by Baltimore City."

County officials said 3,100 households will see water and sewer bills increase by about $20 a quarter -- an increase that will be phased in over four years.

"That is not at all comfortable with a great many people up here, especially the senior citizens," said Bowen, who said that some water bills could double or triple.

Yesterday, at a ceremony marking groundbreaking for the project, County Executive Janet S. Owens honored Bowen, Hodges and Anna Bachman -- an advocate on the issue -- for their dedication in seeing the project through.

A fatal fire on Seventh Avenue in 1994 focused attention on Brooklyn Park's aging, corroded water pipes. Bowen, who watched the fire that killed 73-year-old Gaynelle LeMaster, said firefighters could not get enough water from a nearby hydrant.

"I knew something was wrong," Bowen said. "You had a fire raging and you saw firetrucks sitting around and you saw a bunch of limp hoses sitting around."

Since then, county firefighters coming into Brooklyn Park have carried large-diameter hoses, which allow them to pump water from hydrants farther from the scene, said county fire Chief John M. Scholz. Water tankers are also available to handle critical situations but have not been used, he said.

The fire prompted a 1995 county study of the water distribution system. It found heavily corroded pipes, causing weak water pressure and limiting fire protection. The average life of a water line is 50 years.

After three years of negotiations, Anne Arundel County and Baltimore officials signed an agreement this year to transfer ownership of the lines to the county when repairs are complete, said John A. Morris, spokesman for the county Department of Public Works.

Morris said that the county installed the pipes 70 years ago, but turned over maintenance and operation of the system to the city. He said the reasoning behind that action is unclear.

During the first year of renovation, pipes under Church Street and other critical areas will be targeted. Workers must remove decades of caked rust from inside the pipes and reinforce the linings to speed water flow and prevent rusting.

In a second phase, scheduled to begin next year, workers will replace smaller lines and install water meters at each home.

The county is paying for the water system upgrades and repairs through increases in residents' quarterly payments, until they are paying the same fees as other county residents.

The average household using 17,000 gallons of water per quarter will pay $2.57 more per month beginning in July for combined water and sewer service. Based on current rates, their water and sewer charges will increase from $73.61 per quarter to about $92.49 per quarter on July 1, 2002.

County officials said the Brooklyn Park residents' water bills were low because Baltimore uses general tax revenues to pay for its water system, while Anne Arundel's system is solely supported by user fees.

Pub Date: 5/21/99

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