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Briggsville Water District members raise their hands to authorize the town to take over its operations.

Clarksburg Will Take Over Water District Operations

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
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District operator Clebe Scott, left, and Town Administrator Carl McKinney explain the needs of the water system. 
CLARKSBURG, Mass. — Members of the Briggsville Water District voted unanimously on Wednesday to have the town take over its operations. 
 
The vote by about 20 or so households in the district authorized Water System Operator Clebe Scott to sign an intermunicipal agreement giving the Select Board legal control of the district for setting rates, hiring employees and pursuing grants. 
 
The vote is the first step in a legislative process to dissolve the district and have it fully operated by the town. 
 
Town Administrator Carl McKinney, a member of the district, described the interim agreement as a stop-gap and a way to begin addressing serious issues with the district's infrastructure.
 
"The town has tried to help where we could but the town cannot afford to take this over and pay for it," he told the gathering at the Senior Center. "It as to be an effort by the district empowering the Select Board to act as water commissioners on your behalf. ... so if there are bills, they will be paid by the district."
 
The system's had a number of issues over the last few years in terms of pressure and capacity that McKinney said signaled a failing infrastructure. And the district's lone operator, Scott, has stated his desire to retire from a job that he's done on a volunteer basis for more than 30 years. Talks with town officials began last year about taking over the system.
 
"We've kind of skated along for 30 years ... but it's not a sustainable practice," McKinney said. "As much as I'd love Clebe to continue for a another 30 years, it's not in the cards."
 
The vote will allow the town to apply for grant funding for a study of the system and engineering, as well as legal counsel in developing language for legislation to turn over the member-owned district to the town. It will also allow the town to begin discussions with the state on the district's behalf regarding the planned work on Route 8 and how any lines may be affected. 
 
"This vote tonight empowers you to have the conversation. Empowers the city and selectmen to work on the grant to find some resources to do the study which ultimately helps the road replacement," said district member James Stakenas. "And the alternative is ... nothing."
 
McKinney agreed, unless, he said, someone was willing to step up and take over. 
 
No one did. And apparently, no one has in many,  many years. 
 
The district was formed by an act of the Legislature in the early 1980s after a previous system was condemned by the Board of Selectmen because contamination. The Briggsville district is hooked into the Red Mills Spring and has served 60 households since about 1982. 
 
One member did some research and found that it was supposed to have three water commissioners. Where were they, she asked?
 
Scott said they had died or fallen off the commission over the years, and no one had bothered to replace them. 
 
He'd stuck around, he said to laughter, because "my time was put in keeping my mother-in-law's water running."
 
McKinney warned that the $200 a year flat rate would rise to $300 in the coming months. The town recently took over billing and collections for the district so water bills will be issued quarterly along with property tax bills. 
 
He anticipated that borrowing costs would also be coming users' way as upgrades were made for capacity and sustainability. There's no map of the lines, few shutoffs and issues of the main crossing behind homes on private property. Depending on the outcome of the engineering study and mapping, changes and upgrades would have to be made, including shutoffs and water meters, as well as possible land acquisition to protect the supply. 
 
"There is a significant portion of the town that relies on this water system," McKinney said. "It's a high-quality water system and we should protect it."
 
Most of the questions focused on operations and what the users would be responsible for, which would likely be the lateral pipes off the main if they need to be replaced. McKinney said in some instances, such as moving the main, the laterals might be covered but that would depend on the restrictions of any grants. 
 
The district has about $85,000 in the bank and borrowing capacity for $250,000. Scott said he had been hesitant in taking sole responsibility for spending any large amounts of capital. 
 
Others wondered what their role would be if the district dissolved. McKinney said there was the potential for an advisory committee to assist the Select Board but, in any case, the board would have to be responsive to the users. 
 
Stakenas moved the vote after more than an hour of wide-ranging discussion. But before it was taken, the users gave Clebe Scott his second round of applause for the evening. 
 
Several recounted stories of how he's personally delivered reports and notices to users, or how he'd been found in the middle of the night lying on the ground, listening for the water running through the pipes. 
 
"You have gone over and above on a volunteer basis," said Mary Ann Maroni. 

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