Thursday, June 15, 2006

Diamondhead Water Woes

Jay Botsay's house was one of just a few in this mostly middle- to upper-class community south of Interstate 10 to survive Katrina's fury.
Four months after the storm, Botsay was finally able to use a hose to rinse the slimy mud out of his living room, all the while wrangling with adjusters and contractors.Those hardships may be the least of his problems.
The Diamondhead Water and Sewer District has threatened to disconnect his service, fine him $1,000 per day, and even have his property condemned.
'They're punishing me for trying to get water to my house, when they told us it would be eight months to a year before they restored it on the southside,' Botsay said.
Because the district did not restore water to Diamondhead's southside until December, Botsay and several other residents installed wells on their properties.
'The people returning to the southside were very concerned about their safety because of the lack of water,' said Mario Feola, a southside resident and vice president of the Diamondhead Property Owners Association.
Feola installed a well at his home, he said, because the Water and Sewer District refused to send a tanker truck to the southside to distribute water following the August storm.
'A fire would have been tragic,' he said. 'Water was also needed to start decontamination and cleanup.'
The Water and Sewer District allows private wells that were installed before 1989 in Diamondhead, when the Legislature established the district as a public entity.
Feola, Botsay and other southside residents say they installed their wells to serve temporary, emergency purposes. Feola's well is disconnected, and Botsay's has been capped and covered with concrete.
But that's not good enough. The district wants the wells decommissioned, which is an expensive process that involves pouring concrete into the wells to make sure they never work again.
Mike Collard, the head of the district, sent a letter to Feola on April 10, saying concrete would need to be poured into the well, and that Collard would need to be there to watch.
Collard did not return messages left at the district offices by the Sun Herald seeking comment on the water wells. When reporters called his cell phone, he said, 'I don't know how you got this number, but don't call it again.' Then he hung up.
With the exception of one public road, the POA owns and maintains every street in the private community.
The POA and the Hancock County Board of Supervisors are virtually powerless to intervene in matters concerning the Diamondhead Water and Sewer District.
Since President Reagan was in the White House, the Diamondhead Water and Sewer District has had the power to adopt ordinances, issue fines and disconnect services, according to state law.
Earlier this year, Gov. Haley Barbour signed the Gulf Regional Water Utility Authority Act, fashioned to push South Mississippi governments toward working together on matters of water and sewerage.
County leaders have formed the Hancock County Utility Authority, but the Diamondhead Water and Sewer District can choose to join or remain independent.
The district is not forced to join the county board, but not doing so would mean Diamondhead misses out on its share of $600 million in federal funds for expanding water and sewerage.
Len Blackwell, an attorney who represents the district, said officials want the wells destroyed because rogue water systems could jeopardize the district's water supply. Then there's the economic factor.
'If everyone there had a well, the district's income would go down,' Blackwell said. 'That would mean a rate increase for everyone in Diamondhead.'
The residents have hired an attorney to clearly explain their rights, but it may be too late for Feola, who is scheduled to have concrete dumped into his well sometime this month, and Collard is expected to be looking on.
Mario Feola
Diamondhead Property Owners Association vice president


At 10:19 PM, Anonymous said...

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