2008

18 June 2008: Working with local government can be a chilling experience

Georgetown needs to do the right thing by supporting Curran

It’s great to watch democracy in action—power of the people. The closer to the local level of government, the more likely it is for government to be responsive to the best interests of its citizenry rather than treat them with callous disregard.

Lately, we have witnessed two instances of the will of the people causing a shift in what the power brokers had decided would be a course of action. Seeing their government being un-responsive to its wishes, the citizens of Idaho Springs took matters into their own hands and overwhelmingly voted to de-annex Floyd Hill. Immediately after having taken a bath at the polls, former mayor Dennis Lundberry exited stage left.

In Empire the news is more promising. Initially stuck in “this is a done deal” posture with regard to the trailer homes encroaching on town property, the Board of Trustees decided to review the situation at a workshop on June 24 after hearing from a sizeable contingent of outraged citizens. More on that in a future column, but in the meantime, kudos to the town leaders for hearing the people and being willing to step back and reassess the situation.

In Georgetown, the jury is out to see if and how the town will respond to and be supportive of one of its citizens who, through no fault of her own, has been enduring incredible hardships due to the poor planning in the reconstruction of Seventh Street.

For the past several years, Carol Curran, like others in town, has been forced to “drip” her waterline during the winter months. Carol’s situation is, however, quite distinct from her fellow residents. She has lived in her Seventh St. house for 20 years, and at no time in any winter prior to the renovation of the street, did she suffer a service-line freeze. With the floods of the melting snows and summer storms, her driveway becomes an ice-skating rink or pond, season dependent.

In the winter of 2006-2007, Carol ended up paying $1,000 to have her line melted out—out to the main. It took two contractors nearly six days to thaw it. During this past winter, she enriched Georgetown’s coffers by running up astronomical water bills to avoid a repeat of a frozen waterline. Having been there and done that, let me assure you that it is a most uncomfortable process. For a septuagenarian, however, that brings with it another set of challenges.

What brought about the circumstances that lead to the freezing of her waterline was beyond Carol’s control. Apparently during the construction process, the workers broke her waterline. Without notifying Carol or the town, they simply repaired it. The problem is threefold: it’s not buried deep enough, it wasn’t insulated, and its curb-stop access is inches above the road surface, which allows melting flood waters to easily cascade down the pipe where it causes the waterline to freeze when the temperature drops.

Over the past years, Carol has been trying to work within the system to get the town to amend the problem. Georgetown’s notable solution-to-date has been in the form of Town Manager Chuck Stearns chipping at the ice that dams the inadequately designed drainage chute across the street from her place during and after winter storms. Talk about man versus nature.

Stearns holds that his efforts have been effective. “Our maintenance operations seemed to work last winter. There was not any extensive ponding and when the ponding started, we opened our drain pipe and got it drained,” he commented. “We think that solution should work in the winter over the long term.”

Carol disagrees and says she has dated photographs that unequivocally show the history.

Stearns did offer a glimmer of hope in one way, but took it away with another.

“We are still awaiting a report on other ideas or solutions from the Town Engineer,” he said, but “as you know, I believe and the town code regulation is that the freezing of the water lines is a private property owner problem and solution – i.e. insulate one’s water line or pay to drip.”

The moral is if the homeowner has not cause the screw up in the first place, he/she still holds the bag. That’s a sense of justice: we blew it, but you pay for it.

Georgetown did not reconstruct Seventh Street, and Stearns has admitted publicly that it never signed off on the project. That is also true of Carol’s repaired waterline: the town was not notified nor did it inspect the repair as it would necessarily do in any other case. In short, the Town of Georgetown has dropped the ball on this and continues to shirk its responsibility by looking the other way.

At the recent BOS meeting, in his response to Selectman Young’s question about whether the engineer has looked into the situation, Stearns responded, “I think I know what he’ll say: she will need to dig up the street…”

She? Who or what is she? It’s the first I have heard of a town being referred to in the third-person feminine. This is the town’s responsibility, not Carol’s.

While there are days left on the calendar, Georgetown officials need to begin advocating for Carol with CDOT, FHWA, the engineers, and the contractors for the Seventh-Street renovation project.

If the town is unwilling to do its duty by standing up for one of its aggrieved citizens, it should assume the responsibility for a permanent fix by moving forward with what will likely require an excavation of Seventh St. in order to re-slope it to mitigate the flooding of her property, to insulate and bury her waterline deeper, and to relocate her curb stop.

The window for action will begin closing. As we know, summer is short up here, and it won’t be long before Carol will be stressing over her vital waterline freezing…again.

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