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Twp. to spend up to $105K on replacement well

Insurance provider won't pay, so twp. may sue for faulty well

April 20, 2011 - Oxford Township is moving forward with drilling a new well to replace a faulty one that's currently off-line, but the question remains who's going to end up paying for it?

"We're still in the process of trying to figure out who did what," said township Supervisor Bill Dunn.

The township board last week voted 4-2 to allocate up to $105,000 for drilling a replacement well at Dunlap and Seymour Lake roads.

"I just wanted to reiterate the importance of getting this well on-line," Dunn said. "We do need it to supply water for our peak demand."

Peak demand is the period during the spring and summer seasons when township water users begin irrigating their lawns and gardens, and washing their vehicles.

Drilled in 2004, Well #1, located at Dunlap and Seymour Lake roads, was taken off-line earlier this year because its casing is out of plumb by 23.76 inches at a depth of 170 feet.

As a result, the well was pumping sand along with water, the abrasive effects of which caused excessive wear on the pump.

"We conclude that the well casing and screen, constructed by Stearns Drilling, was not constructed to industry standards and attributed to the premature wear of the pump," wrote Oakland County Water Resources Commissioner's (WRC) Office Assistant Chief Engineer Glenn Appel in a Jan. 24 letter to the township.

It was recommended by the county that a replacement well be drilled at the same site for an estimated cost of $85,000 to $103,500.

For now, the money for the new well is going to come from the approximately $633,000 the township has in "undesignated retained earnings" being held by the WRC.

Originally paid by township water users through their regular bills, these excess funds are retained by the county for the municipality's use.

But officials are seeking other financial remedies. The township tried to get its insurance carrier to pay for it, but struck out.

"They have indicated they're not willing to cover the loss that we've incurred," said township Clerk Curtis Wright.

"They feel that the contractor that put in the well did it improperly and they basically are telling us to go after them," Dunn said.

Officials are looking into the possibility of obtaining compensation for the new well from Stearns Drilling (Grand Rapids), Rowe Professional Services Company, and Insight Environmental Services, which was acquired by the Florida-based BCI Engineers & Scientists, Inc. in 2007.

"Anyone that had anything to do with this on notice that we are possibly going to be suing," Dunn said.

The supervisor noted that the township's insurance provider isn't off the hook yet.

"I'm not satisfied with their answer that they're not going to cover it," he said.

Dunn likened the township's faulty well to having a house built, then having a water pipe burst and destroy the ceiling and walls. In that scenario, he said the insurance company would cover it, then go after the plumber.

Resident Helen Barwig asked if the township planned to go after the county WRC as well because its engineers were out there with Rowe (the township's engineering firm at the time) when the well was drilled.

"County should be involved, too," she said.

But Dunn indicated the county has "no fault" here because they didn't take over maintaining and operating the township well until after it was installed.

"They had nothing to do with the installation," he said.

If the township does proceed with legal action in order to recoup the cost of drilling a new well, Treasurer Joe Ferrari wants an idea of the costs beforehand.

"If we decide to go with an attorney on this, I want to make sure we get a cost estimate," he said.

Ferrari indicated he doesn't want to spend "six figures" in legal fees pursuing this matter. "If we get an estimate where it will be a couple thousand dollars, I can live with that," he said.

If the legal costs are going to be too high, Ferrari said the township's "better off eating" the expense of drilling a new well.

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.
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