Cheryl Luther Michaels, Community Journalist
EAST HARDWICK – The prudential committee (board) members of the East Hardwick Fire District (EHFD#1) are the caretakers of the water supply to East Hardwick Village. The board has had meetings and activities during the first quarter of 2023.
After the March meeting was canceled due to illness, the committee announced the next gathering will be held Tuesday, April 11, at 7 p.m., in the Fellowship Room of the East Hardwick First Congregational Church. The purpose of this meeting is to vote on by-laws for the district. This document may be the first set of by-laws written for the organization since it was established in 1912. Doug Casavant, previous chair, said he has never seen written by-laws in the many years he was a committee member.
The April 11 Special Meeting will be followed by a regular meeting of the board. Rate payers who want copies of the proposed by-laws can request them from David O’Brien or find them on the district’s newly-created online notice board at ehfd.mystrikingly.com/. A printed copy of the minutes will continue to be posted in the lobby of the East Hardwick Post Office and at D & L Market.
In January, the rate payers received an increase in their water bills from $100 to $200 per year. The previous rate increase was so long ago that no one seems to be able to come up with a date. According to board chair, David O’Brien, when reviewing last year’s expenses in preparation for the 2023 budget, the board realized that current income is not covering current expenses. Last year there were no exceptional expenses due to major line breaks or equipment failure, yet the year’s expenditures still exceeded the year’s income.
Discussion at the January 10 meeting focused on the upcoming inventory that is federally-mandated by the EPA under the new lead and copper rule. The rule requires all public water systems to have a complete inventory of service lines to identify the presence of lead. The meeting was attended by Patrick Smart and Jason Hayden, environmental engineers with MSK Engineering, a company that specializes in drinking water and water quality. This company will work with the fire district to create the inventory. Subsequent to an application by the trustees, the EHFD#1 was chosen by the state for financial assistance to perform this task.
The district, according to the meeting minutes, expects this inventory effort to fit in with their upcoming projects to map the system, confirm rate payer information and perform other asset management tasks.
In January it was reported that a letter of interest for an Asset Management Grant from the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation had been submitted and in February, David O’Brien reported he had received the application. If awarded, this grant will help establish an asset management plan. This plan is required before additional assistance to update the system can be obtained from the state.
The January meeting was attended by three residents who expressed concerns about the temporary chlorination of the water. These included sickness and skin rashes as well as the smell and taste of the water. Board members explained the recent chlorination mandated by the state was a result of root intrusion into the springs. After presenting copies of the monthly chlorination levels, which registered far below the state maximum, trustees assured the guests that they are committed to returning to chlorine-free water as soon as legally possible.
It was suggested that a temporary solution for the residents might be to use water filters. Patrick Smart from MSK Engineering stated that carbon filters work well. Board member Randy Thompson agreed to compile, and make available, a list of water filtration products.
John Mandeville, acting as board treasurer, reported the transition to a professional bookkeeper for billing and other accounting tasks was completed in January. Additionally, in 2023 there will no longer be a paid secretary present at meetings: the board secretary will take minutes.
The February water reports were provided by the operator and showed that the flow is remaining constant and the chlorine residuals are good. Bacterial samples are negative.
An additional water leak on Church Street was discovered in February. Vermont Rural Water has checked the leak and the location has been marked with a flag. Trustee Randy Thompson reported there has been no increase in the total flow since the previous leaks were repaired, raising the possibility that this leak is not new. In March a leak behind Cedar Street was reported. Plans are being made to repair that leak in the Spring or early Summer and to evaluate the Church Street line for possible replacement.
An additional activity of the prudential committee over the first quarter has been collecting email addresses so that water users can be notified of shutoffs, special meetings and other concerns. Forms were mailed out with the January water bills and Gary Michaels, acting as board secretary, said that over one third have been returned thus far.