Chilkat Valley News - Serving Haines and Klukwan, Alaska since 1966


West side residents seek better water, rates


January 6, 2011

Former customers of Crystal Cathedrals Water and Sewer System say they want their old water source back and are skeptical of a new Haines Borough pricing regime that makes them the only metered residential water customers in the borough.

About two dozen west-side residents turned out at a Dec. 28 borough committee meeting to voice concerns. The borough took over the utility Dec. 3, picking up 56 residential customers and about a half-dozen commercial ones on Comstock, Piedad and North Sawmill roads and Cathedral View subdivision.

Sonny Myers was one of several residents seeking a return to water from the Piedad spring, their source of water for decades. In 1998, CCWSS was awarded the service area and the Piedad water source, previously managed by the City of Haines, was disconnected from the neighborhood.

Myers said the utility’s water – provided by a wellfield near 1 Mile Haines Highway – tastes terrible, smells bad and ruined pipes and a boiler at his home. "The taste changes even with the tide. When the tide’s in it tastes like saltwater. When the tide’s out, it can be bearable. We had great water for many years."

Haines Borough facilities manager Brad Maynard, however, told the crowd that returning the neighborhood to the Piedad source wasn’t as easy as opening a valve. A recent assessment estimated that merging the two systems could cost more than $1.5 million, due to a difference in water pressure.

"The borough has only owned the system for two and a half weeks. To make a snap decision on who we’re going to turn off or turn on, it’s a little premature for that," Maynard said.

The state has required the borough to do a year-long study of Piedad water checking for surface water infiltration into the artesian system. Infiltration will require treatment of water akin to the process for water from Lily Lake, Maynard said.

"I’m not in favor or spending a million dollars to make it work. I’m also not in favor of turning on some values and having good water in some places and bad water in other areas," he said.

Residents also are concerned about rates and metering. Former CCWSS residential customers, who are metered, will pay a base rate of $90 per month for water and sewer, compared to an unmetered rate of $75.80 monthly for residences elsewhere in the borough.

The new, metered customers pay extra when their use exceeds 4,000 gallons per month, compared to a 5,500-gallon threshold for extra cost under CCWSS. Borough finance chief Jila Stuart said only six of 56 customers exceeded the 4,000-gallon threshold in November.

The rate paid by unmetered borough users increases this month to $75.80, up from $73.05, including $1.52 more monthly to help pay for the purchase of CCWSS and $1.23 for general, increased expenses.

Stuart said the borough intended to eventually meter all residences, but that didn’t sit well with new customers, who said that might take years.

Resident Matt Boron, Terry Sharnbroich and others, however, said they’ve paid rates higher than other residents even previous to CCWSS. "My main concern is the rate," Boron said. "They really should be equitable based on what’s happened in the past. We paid and paid and paid. Now it looks like we’re going to pay again."

Assemblyman Steve Vick said the assembly is working on rate structure and equitability is an issue.

Sharnbroich, who packs water instead of drinking what he has to buy, said after the meeting he hoped the strong showing by residents left an impression on leaders. He said he’d like to get back on Piedad water. "I’m not angry. I’d like to see the borough work toward it and not forget about it."

It’s not reasonable for Piedad residents to be the only metered customers, he said, but added he was glad Crystal Cathedrals brought sewer service to the area. Bad septic systems were an issue, he said. "It’s great to have a sewer system."