By Dan Moffett
Ocean Ridge commissioners aren’t buying a recommendation from a citizens advisory panel that the town should turn over its water pipes to Boynton Beach when a contract between the two communities expires next year.
In October, the town’s Septic to Sewer Citizens Advisory Committee voted 4-1 in favor of giving some 85,000 linear feet of pipes to Boynton Beach.
Boynton Beach provides water to Ocean Ridge but is not responsible for maintaining the pipes or repairing any problems.
As part of the recommendation, the committee stipulated that Boynton Beach should take full responsibility for maintaining the pipes “in perpetuity” at no cost to Ocean Ridge and to give the town preferred in-city water rates, the same as Boynton residents.
When the idea came before the Town Commission in November, commissioners and staff balked at the prospect of surrendering an asset that Town Manager Tracey Stevens says is worth at least $3.8 million.
And during their Dec. 2 meeting, commissioners decided the responsibility for pursuing answers to their inquiries and working out financial details of the water contract should shift back to the town manager and directed staff to negotiate directly with Boynton Beach so the town’s bargaining positions stay out of the public forum.
That move reflected the commission’s opinion that the advisory committee’s focus had become narrower.
Previously, in a memo sent to the committee after the Nov. 4 meeting, Stevens outlined eight questions for the committee to address including assessment of the condition of the pipes and valves, how much it costs annually to maintain the town’s pipes and how much it would cost to replace them.
The commission requested more information about ownership and liability of three water pipes under the Intracoastal Waterway that connect Boynton Beach’s pipes to Ocean Ridge’s.
The commission also wanted the committee to explore the process for repurchasing the pipes down the road if necessary and to provide information on how nearby Manalapan and Hypoluxo are handling the issue of pipes as Hypoluxo splits from the Manalapan water system.
At the Nov. 4 meeting, Vice Mayor Don MaGruder called the advisory committee’s recommendation on the water pipes “premature. I don’t think the Septic to Sewer Advisory Committee is really on a very good track there.
“They’re doing a really good job, but I think this came to the commission too quickly. They haven’t been able to do a lot of the research they wanted to do and that they still need to do.”
Mayor Steve Coz agreed, saying the main reason the committee was created was to look at ways to finance septic-to-sewer conversion — not to get “dragged into” water contract issues between the municipalities. The current agreement expires next November.
Commissioner Kristine de Haseth said the committee needed more guidance to stay on track. “Staff has to be very conscientious and clear on what you’re asking the committee to do,” she said. “With a $3.8 million capital asset, to give it away for nothing is fiscally irresponsible.”
Stevens said the recommendation raised potential unintended consequences that have not been fully explored. “We have a lot of questions that still need to be answered,” she said.
During the Dec. 2 meeting, committee Chairman Neil Hennigan said the panel wanted to come before the commissioners and explain the reasoning behind its recommendation. He also asked for clarity on the advisers’ role.
Although the commission rejected the idea of a presentation on the water contract, Coz said he does want a presentation and a written report when the Septic to Sewer work is done. The committee plans to meet again Jan. 9.
In other business:
• The commission is about to make another attempt at using signs to curb beachgoers’ bad behavior and trespassing on private property.
Commissioners approved language for four signs to be erected on the town’s beachfront: on the beach south of Ocean Inlet Park; north of Hammock Park; south of Oceanfront Park, and north of Briny Breezes.
The signs will say: “End of Public Beach. Please Respect Private Property. Thank you.”
The town’s logo will appear beneath the message.
• MaGruder told the commission on Dec. 2 he will not run for a second term in the March 17 municipal election because he is moving to North Carolina next year.
“This month I celebrate my 33rd year as a resident in Ocean Ridge,” he said. “By my count, there’s been 11 mayors, four police chiefs and at least seven town managers. … I just wanted to tell you all how much I appreciated you electing me to the commission. I love this town. I’m going to miss it.”
Besides MaGruder’s seat, the one held by Commissioner Susan Hurlburt may be contested. Candidate filing dates run until noon Dec. 13.
Rich Pollack contributed to this story.