Falls City hits snag in plans to take over maintenance

FALLS CITY — The city of Falls City has hit a snag in plans to take over maintenance of back flow devices on customer water lines.

Back flow units protect the city’s water system from contamination and were installed in the early 2000s in response to what the council believed was going to be a regulatory requirement. Once installed, the city has an obligation to test them.

Maintenance of the devices, on the other hand, is left to the customer. Mayor Terry Ungricht said the cost for replacing back flows could be burdensome to residents, so he proposed the council pursue a plan for the city to take ownership of the devices. The plan increased water bills by $1.75 permanently to pay for the cost of replacing the units when they fail.

Ungricht said Thursday that the city’s attorney reviewed that plan and believes it’s illegal because it would be considered the government “taking” private property.

The council had been scheduled to approve a resolution to begin charging $4 (replacing a $2.25 charge to pay a contractor) to each customer to test units and replace them as needed until Ungricht found the city was on shaky legal ground.

Ungricht said he hasn’t given up on the idea of the city taking over maintenance of the units, but will need a different approach.

“We’ll go over OHA regulations and see if there is a way we can take ownership of them to help relieve our customers of the big cost,” he said.

Back flow testing is underway and so far, all have passed, Ungricht said.

“But if there is one that fails and our tester and our (Public Works staff) feels it’s putting our system into jeopardy, we will have to shut that service off until they (the owners) have replacement installed,” he said.

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