January 18, 2012 - It's been a year since Oxford Township municipal Well #1 was taken off-line and it's fate is still in limbo.
Last week, township officials voted 5-2 to authorize Stearns Drilling Co. to redevelop the faulty groundwater well for an amount not to exceed $3,000.
"That's kind of a bargain, I guess, if you want to call it that," said Jim Sharpe, the township's engineer.
"If it works," responded Trustee Joe Bunting.
Redeveloping Well #1, which used to pump 600 gallons per minute for township water customers, has only a 50/50 chance of being successful, according to experts from the Indiana-based Peerless Midwest, Inc. and the Oakland County Water Resources Commissioner's Office.
But before the township proceeds with redevelopment, Supervisor Bill Dunn was directed to ask the company, which is based near Grand Rapids, if it would be willing to contribute $30,000 toward the drilling of a brand new well.
"It's good to ask, but I just think it's a long shot," said Treasurer Joe Ferrari.
Located near Seymour Lake and Dunlap roads, Well #1 was taken off line during winter 2011 because it was originally drilled 23.76 inches out of plumb. This caused the well to pump sand along with water, the abrasive effects of which resulted in excessive wear on the pump.
Stearns drilled the township well, along with three others, back in 2004-05. When it was revealed last year that Well #1 was out of plumb, Stearns claimed it had struck a rock during the drilling process, which is not uncommon, and that resulted in the well's casing being nearly 2 feet out of plumb.
Last year, Stearns offered to redevelop the well for a cost of $3,000, which is considerably less than the cost for such a process.
Dunn estimated the cost for redevelopment is anywhere from $25,000 to $35,000.
The township countered with a proposal to let Stearns do the redevelopment for $3,000, but if it did not work, Stearns would still be responsible for rectifying the problem, plus reimburse the municipality for the $3,000.
Stearns rejected that counter offer.
"They won't do it with a stipulation that if it doesn't work, we're going to go after them for the rest of the money," Dunn said.
The supervisor approached the township board last week to see how it wished to proceed.
There was some talk about the possibility of pursuing a lawsuit. Township attorney Gary Rentrop estimated it would require 30 hours (at $75 per hour) to research the issue, plus an additional $10,000 to $50,000 to litigate the matter.
The prospect of spending all that money on litigation, which the township could lose, was not appealing to some officials.
"I don't like our chances," said Dunn, who noted "the township has to accept a little bit of responsibility" for the faulty well.
"I believe back then (when the well was drilled) we did not go through our engineer to go out for bids and to award the contract," he said. "I think we could have done a little better job at overseeing it."
The fact that it would cost $100,000 to $110,000 to drill a brand new well made Dunn even more hesitant about pursuing a lawsuit.
"I would hate to spend $50,000 (on legal fees) and then have to come up with another $110,000 to develop a (new) well," he said.
Trustee Melvin (Buck) Cryderman expressed the same concern.
"At what point are we going to spend more money on lawyers than we're going to spend on the dang well," he said.
Bunting suggested asking Stearns if they'd be willing to cut the township a check for $30,000 – the estimated cost of redeveloping the well – to have a new well drilled and then, the municipality pays the difference.
"That way we know 100 percent we're going to have a fixed well," he said.
Even though he indicated he'd ask the company, Dunn pointed out it wouldn't cost Stearns $30,000 "out of pocket" to redevelop the well because they'd be using their own labor to do it.
"It's a nice thought," Dunn said. "I will try."
The township's insurance carrier has already denied coverage for the faulty well citing poor workmanship as an exclusion in the municipality's policy.
CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.