By Rich Pollack
Ocean Ridge town leaders will soon receive a recommendation from one of their advisory committees to turn over control of miles of water pipes to Boynton Beach Utilities — but they will have to wait for a suggestion from the team on whether to convert to a centralized sewer system.
Last month members of the Septic to Sewer Citizens Advisory Committee voted 4-1 to recommend that Ocean Ridge turn over responsibility for the town’s more than 85,000 linear feet of water pipes to Boynton Beach when an agreement between the two communities expires next year.
Boynton Beach Utilities is operated by the city of Boynton Beach but provides water and sewer services outside the city limits as well. It provides water to Ocean Ridge residents under the current agreement, but has no responsibility for maintenance or repair of the pipes still owned by the town.
In making its recommendation to the Town Commission, the committee included a stipulation from member Art Ziev that Ocean Ridge residents continue to pay the same water rates as Boynton Beach residents and that Boynton take full responsibility for maintenance and repair of the pipes “in perpetuity” at no cost to the town.
During discussion of the issue, committee Chairman Neil Hennigan and other members said they had heard from residents who opposed transferring ownership of waterlines to another entity.
“People are not comfortable with a large part of our infrastructure going to Boynton,” he said. “There’s a sense we’re giving something away.”
Committee members said they understood those concerns but felt they were not fully on point.
“The idea of Boynton taking over lines is more emotional than actual,” committee member Ron Kirn said.
Resident Terry Brown told the committee he didn’t think it would be wise to turn the lines over to Boynton. “This is not a smart idea,” he said. “You need to keep control of the pipes. I’m not sure why they would want the pipes.”
Representatives from Boynton Beach said one reason the utility wants to own the pipes is so it can have more overall responsibility for the quality of water getting into the homes.
“The utility needs to maintain the waterlines to ensure the high quality service to customers and it will lower the overall cost,” said Colin Groff, Boynton Beach’s assistant city manager for public services.
One challenge for Boynton Beach under the current arrangement is that the utility is held responsible by state officials for the quality of water delivered to homes in Ocean Ridge, but without oversight of the lines doesn’t have complete control.
Ocean Ridge has no water quality issues, Groff said.
Utilities director Joseph Paterniti said Boynton has the staff and equipment to ensure lines are property maintained.
“Boynton Beach Utilities have a full complement of utility field technicians that provide maintenance on all the utility’s infrastructure,” he said.
Should the Ocean Ridge commission accept the committee’s recommendation to turn over ownership of the pipes, terms of an agreement with Boynton Beach would be subject to negotiations.
Also at the Oct. 17 meeting, committee members rejected a recommendation to abandon the idea of installing a centralized wastewater system to replace septic tanks.
“There is no imminent need for a conversion at this time,” said Ziev, whose motion for a recommendation did not receive a second.
Kirn, who has been surveying the town’s multifamily units to determine what types of systems are used, said he believes there may be alternatives available other than installing an expensive and expansive centralized sewer system.
“An all-or-nothing proposal seems to be premature,” he said.
Further discussion of the issue is expected at the committee’s Nov. 21 meeting.