MARION — A broken pipe that went unnoticed for several months has resulted in a water bill topping $73,000 for homeowner Nicholas Grace, and selectmen have decided not to give him a discount, fearing it might set a precedent for other users looking to lower their bills.
“The town has had a longstanding policy that if water passes through the meter, it’s the responsibility of the homeowner,” said Town Administrator Paul Dawson, who said Grace’s bill for the six-month period is $73,232.04.
The amount was due Dec. 13. Grace paid $2,000 on the due date, but interest on the balance is now accumulating at a rate of 14 percent.
According to Dawson, Grace has two options: He can set up a payment plan with the town or take the town to court.
Grace, 73, who refused to comment for this story, had an old water meter at his home at 131 Allens Point Road, the kind frequently used in the past for summer residences but in many cases long replaced.
Grace’s meter is in a pit in wetlands about 150 feet from the house. Dawson said the distance and swampy location of both the meter and the broken pipe, which was about 20 feet from the meter, caused the leak to go undetected for several months.
Water simply made the wetlands wetter. “Nobody was suspicious because there was already water there,” Dawson said. “And the homeowner said there was no water pressure loss.”
A Water Division employee suspected something was up when he went by with his radio meter reader in early November and was unable to get a reading. An employee was sent to look at the meter and found it was underwater and “spinning rapidly,” according to the written report given by Public Works Superintendent Rob Zora to selectmen, who act as the town’s water and sewer commissioners.
In his report, Zora said the Water Division had written to Grace about a year ago regarding the location of the water meter in wetlands, but the meter was never moved.
Grace hired a plumber to repair the pipe shortly after being contacted by the Water Division in November, but by then, more than 4.4 million gallons in town water had flowed through. The meter has now been replaced, Dawson said.
Grace requested an abatement, suggesting he be charged up to four times the amount of his average six-month bill. Dawson said that average was about $1,000.
Selectmen on Dec. 13 decided not to reduce Grace’s bill. At one point, they discussed a possible 50 percent reduction, but only one of the three, Stephen Cushing, was in favor of it.
Selectman Jody Dickerson opposed any reduction along with Selectman Jonathan Henry. “The town has had this policy for quite a few years and has never waived any water bills, and I believe that policy is correct,” Dickerson said last week. “The homeowner can appeal the decision in district court.”
“I’m not happy with what happened,” Cushing said last week. “Now we’ve essentially forced him to seek relief from the court.”
Allens Point Road is in an affluent section of town, located along the coast. “I’ve heard comments from some people who say, ‘He can afford it,’” Cushing said. “I don’t care how much money you think someone has — if I got a bill for $70,000, I’d drop on the floor.”