Corsicana Daily Sun, Corsicana, Texas

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December 25, 2012

Water dispute has no cut-and-dried solution

Angus — It’s hard to say when the problems between Betty McCain and the Angus Water Supply Corporation began. The water coop says it began in 2010. The 80-year-old McCain says it started in 1965, when she signed her service agreement.

Regardless, it has boiled down to McCain having spent the last three weeks without water. She finally got it turned back on this past week, when she paid the first of a series of monthly installments on a fat repair bill the water department is levying.

“I paid them $161 and they finally turned it back on Tuesday,” McCain said. “I’ve had a pretty rough time. I want to thank all the neighbors who brought me food and my kids for bringing me water. I was having to haul water and I can’t hardly do that. I’ve had friends that did my washing for me and bringing me food.”

The facts that both sides agree on are these:

About two months ago, McCain called the water department to tell them she wanted them to mark the water line so she could have some work done on her electric fence. The men marked off the pipe along the front portion of her property, not the rest. The guy building the fence struck water, so to speak. The utility came out and repaired the line, a bunch of water leaked out, and then the finger-pointing got ugly.

“I called them at 9:30 and they got here at 10:20 and they were out there taking pictures instead of cutting the water off,” McCain claims. “It ran until 11:45 before they ever cut it off. They left at 2:30, and charged me for eight hours of time for fixing it. I just didn’t feel like they’d done me right at all.”

The bill came out to $1,833.50, of which $897 was for the water that spilled out into her pasture. That seems to be the part that bothers her the most.

“They charged me $900 for unmetered water,” she said. “I don’t know how they could figure $900 and they left it on, 156,000 gallons of water. I don’t feel like that was my fault altogether. They left if on for an hour and a half afterwards. If they’d marked the line I never would have hit it to start with. I don’t mind paying for some of the repairs on it, but I’m a stockholder and I have to assume all the water losses. They have big water losses every month and I have to assume that just like everybody else.”

Jay Mertz, president of the Angus Water Supply, disagrees with her assessment of the situation.

He points to a previous water leak on her property back in 2010, when a friend of hers trying to bury a horse corpse struck one of the main water lines. McCain didn’t want to pay for that repair, but she finally did write them a check under protest. Then she sued the water company in JP court. She lost.

As regards to this most recent leak, Mertz said it’s a matter of who said what. The water secretary says McCain asked only for part of the lines under her land marked. McCain says that’s not true. Mertz said that if McCain was going to have the fencing work done beyond where the first line was marked then she should have called them back out. Regardless, the man doing the fencing certainly didn’t know there were more lines, and he hit a four-inch pipe, breaking it open like a fat, watery egg.

The cut-off may have simply seemed to be slow to her because it takes a while for the line to drain, Mertz said. They sent her a bill, which she didn’t pay. They sent her another one, certified. She says they harassed her, which Mertz denies.

“We weren’t going to harass her or disturb her. It’s her responsibility to work out a payment program,” Mertz said. “She bows her back and says ‘I’m not going to pay it.’”

A deputy sheriff was called out who interviewed both sides then concluded that McCain needed to work out a payment plan.

“Had she done that, her water would never have been cut off,” Mertz said.

She didn’t. Instead, she went to a lawyer, carrying a copy of her 1965 service agreement. The lawyer sent the water cooperative a letter saying they needed to turn her water back on because she had paid the bill for water usage, but not the line repair.

They didn’t. Instead, the water company held its ground until McCain got so tired of doing without that essential service that she did exactly what the deputy had advised a month earlier — she went down and worked out a payment plan.

It should be pointed out that Angus is a customer itself of the City of Corsicana, which charges according to how much water the smaller company receives. Corsicana doesn’t care whether the water spills out or goes towards cooking, Angus has to pay for each gallon.

Both sides see this as a temporary stalemate, with neither particularly optimistic for long-lasting peace.

“If anybody has created this situation, it’s been Mrs. McCain herself,” Mertz said. “Folks out there are painting this picture of how horrible we’ve been to Mrs. McCain. She doesn’t feel she should have to pay anything. But when you cause that destruction you’re going to pay for it.”

McCain intends to address the entire board when they group meets in regular session on the third Monday of January.

“I don’t know how I’m going to come out,” she said. “I don’t know what I’ll have to do, do without water, I guess.”

      —————

Janet Jacobs may be reached via e-mail at jjacobs@corsicanadailysun.com. Want to “sound off” to this article? E-mail: Soundoff@corsicanadailysun.com

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