November 1, 2012 | Volume 42, No.44

After 12 years, Piedad water back on tap at hillside

Sonny Myers says that for the first time in more than a decade, he can turn on a tap at his house for a drink of water.

On Oct. 16, Myers and about 50 other customers on Piedad, Sunshine, Comstock, and North Sawmill roads were connected to the Piedad spring, a historic source some residents said was the best water in town.

About 12 years ago, Myers and his neighbors were required to connect to Crystal Cathedrals well water after developer John Floreske Jr. was awarded a service area for water and sewer service in the area.

Floreske extended sewer lines to new areas, an improvement hailed by residents, but his water tasted bad and cost more than town service, they said.

“If you take a pot of coffee and dump about half a salt shaker in it, that would be pretty much representative of what it tasted like,” Roc Ahrens said.

Salt in the water not only made it unusable for drinking and cooking, it also quickly ruined expensive equipment like pipes and water heaters, Ahrens said.

In 2010, the Haines Borough purchased the Crystal Cathedrals system for $370,000. Since then, the borough had been examining ways to incorporate the Crystal Cathedrals distribution into the borough’s water system, which is supplied by the Piedad spring as well as Lily Lake.

Last fall, the line piping water from the Piedad spring into town failed in several places and was shut off. When the borough went to replace the failed line recently, it tied together the Crystal Cathedrals infrastructure with the Piedad distribution system, said borough water and sewer operator Scott Bradford.

Now, only six homes in Cathedral View subdivision receive Crystal Cathedrals water. These customers eventually will be incorporated into the borough’s distribution system, Bradford said.

Crystal Cathedrals is now essentially a back-up resource that can be pumped into the borough’s system during emergencies or periods of very high demand, Bradford said.

Residents like Myers and Ahrens are delighted to have their old Piedad water back on tap.

Ahrens said he hasn’t had a yard in more than a decade because of the high cost of water and is making plans to put in some raised garden beds. Julie Myers, Sonny’s wife, said the improvement includes laundry that doesn’t stink and being able to make a decent cup of coffee with water straight from the faucet.

Ahrens expects the change to save everyone time and money. Now that quality water is available in-house, he won’t be trekking out to Mud Bay Road to get spring water for drinking. Nor will he have to keep replacing water heaters at a faster rate than is reasonable, he said.

Although he is grateful for the reconnection, Ahrens is concerned that residents in the Piedad neighborhood are paying more for their water and sewer service than people in town.

“We’re disappointed that we still to this day pay more than other customers and we’re still metered,” said Matt Boron, another area resident.

Under Crystal Cathedrals, Piedad neighborhood residents paid roughly $120 a month for metered water and sewer. Now they pay about $88 for metered water, compared to the $78 customers in town pay for the same unmetered service.

Borough chief fiscal officer Jila Stuart explained that the borough assembly decided that the purchase price of the Crystal Cathedrals system was to be split evenly between Piedad-area customers and the borough’s water utility.

Customers in the former Crystal Cathedrals service area pay a surcharge on top of the monthly metered rate.

In October, when they increased for other users, rates for customers in the former service area went down, Stuart said. This is because as more people hook up to water and sewer out in the Piedad neighborhood, the expense is distributed over a larger group of people, and the surcharge falls. Stuart also pointed to a recent decrease in loan interest rates that accounted for the pricing changes.

The length of the loan is 20 years. After 20 years, Crystal Cathedrals users and regular users will pay the same rate.

“Up until that time they should continue to converge because the more people who hook up, the more people there are splitting the surcharge, so the surcharge should continue to decrease,” Stuart said. “It shouldn’t increase, because we don’t have more expenses. We’re just paying off this loan.”