The Carroll commissioners plan to send letters to the nearly 7,000 homes and businesses who use South Carroll's public water system saying the county will not be responsible for expenses incurred from pinhole leaks in pipes.
Many residents have spent thousands of dollars to replace leaking pipes inside and outside their homes. They blame the county's water treatment process, which removed pipe-protecting agents several years ago. They have asked for reimbursement of costs that were not covered by their homeowners insurance.
Reviewing a draft of the letter yesterday, Commissioner Donald I. Dell said he wants definitive language included that would end requests for repayment.
"My position is, there is nothing we can do. This issue is done," Dell said. "I don't want to hear anymore about it. Saying we are working with other jurisdictions indicates there is research going on. We gave people too much encouragement a long time ago."
Since 1998, reports of leaks in several subdivisions in Sykesville and Eldersburg increased steadily. The county and a homeowners group each hired consultants to determine the cause. Officials said the information has been inconclusive.
The county began adding a corrosion inhibitor to the treatment process in July 2000 and since then the leaks have declined significantly. But that's small consolation to those who experienced the problem.
"The evidence of the cause is inconclusive," said Steven D. Powell, county director of budget and finance. "Without evidence for legal liability, I cannot recommend that the county pay at this juncture. This is an issue for the homeowner and his insurer."
Dell said that while he wants the letter to assure residents of the safety of drinking water - treated at the county's Freedom Water Treatment Plant on the Liberty Reservoir - he will not appease a few people at the expense of all county taxpayers.
He asked that the letter's references to the county working with other jurisdictions that are experiencing the problem be deleted. He said such references give people too much hope.
Commissioner Robin Bartlett Frazier said the letter should be sent to all customers on the system. The commissioners expect to review a final draft as early as next week.
"We have previously sent information to all the customers," she said. "This letter is a follow-up. We want people to know that, if there is anything we can do to improve the water system, we will do it."
Dell said this month he would not be surprised if the affected residents instituted legal action. He maintains, however, that the county is not liable.
Carol Brown, who has spent nearly $4,000 replacing pipes at her Eldersburg home, said she would withhold comment until she receives the letter. But, she added, "It is interesting Dell would say this might end up in court and then responds in this way."
During a county survey last spring, nearly 500 South Carroll residents reported leaks. Many said they had spent more than $1,000 on repairs and wanted the county to assume those costs.
The county's problem also mirrors - on a smaller scale - a survey Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission has yet to complete on its problem with pinhole leaks
In older areas of Montgomery County, more than 3,000 homes have been affected by leaks.
Powell said the county would continue to share information with the WSSC. "Typically, we are willing to work with our neighbors on these issues," he said.