A house fire and subsequent lawsuit have kick-started an $8 million plan to restore fire hydrant pressure to hydrants in Lake Orion village after nearly two decades of neglected maintenance.
According to Detroit News, the fire started when a Tiki bar hut on a wooden deck was being prepared for the winter. The blaze caused $1 million in damage to a three-story home — though a hydrant was just a few feet away.
A neighbor tells Detroit News the village’s hydrants provide nothing more than aesthetic ornamentation.
“It’s nothing but an expensive lawn ornament,” Lyn Meo tells Detroit News, who lives next door to what was her daughter’s home, which is now being rebuilt.
“If it doesn’t work, what good is it?”
Orion Township officials, including Supervisor Christopher Barnett and Fire Chief Robert Smith, agree fire hydrants with low or no pressure are a problem.
“This has pitted village against township, and I don’t appreciate it,” Barnett, who was named in an insurance company’s lawsuit – which was dismissed last month – seeking reimbursement for the fire insurance claim because of the inept hydrants.
According to Barnett, even though the township is responsible for fire protection in Lake Orion, he tells Detroit News maintaining the hydrants and water pressure is a village responsibility.
“This is something that has been going on for years,” he said. “It is not the responsibility of the township. The village knows this but has tried to make this an issue regarding fire protection when they have not addressed the problem.
“It’s a tragedy that is still waiting to happen.”
In an effort to identify faulty hydrants, Detroit News reports the fire department painted the hydrants black … signaling they’re out of service.
Detroit News reports Lake Orion village manager Joseph Young, who took office two months ago, denies the hydrants were repainted and disputes the village is failing to address the issue.
The city manager contends the village had no idea the hydrants were unserviceable until it commissioned a water study.
“Before then (the village) wasn’t required to do anything,” Young tells Detroit News. “We really can’t explain why anyone would think there were any delays in resolving any problems.”
Does Young’s short time in the position indicate an uneducated response?
Documents reviewed by Detroit News indicate village and township officials have known about the problem since 1997 but failed to address the issue.
Smith said maintenance records dating to 1996 showed that out of 137 hydrants on the village water system, 53 were unserviceable for fire department use, despite the village having switched from community wells to the Detroit water system.
“Part of the problem is residents don’t understand there even is a problem,” Smith tells Detroit News. “They turn on their water and brush their teeth, wash their dishes or take a shower and no problem. It’s not the same when you immediately need thousands of gallons of water to fight a fire.”
The Lake Orion village council voted recently to apply for an $8 million loan from the state to replace 40,000 feet of water pipes and nearly one-third of the town’s 193 hydrants. The village also is seeking a $1 million grant from the state Department of Environmental Quality that would reduce the amount Lake Orion needs to borrow, according to Detroit News.
The project — when funded — will be done in four phases and will mean higher water rates for Lake Orion’s nearly 3,000 residents through June 30, 2021, according to Young.
“There will be a cost, but it will be done in increments over the life of the project,” he said.
Construction could begin as soon as summer 2018, Young tells Detroit News.
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