Prison’s leak costs state $220,000

MONROE — The state Department of Corrections has agreed to pay the city for 19 million gallons of water lost through a leaky pipe at its prison complex.

Corrections officials ended four months of wrangling by telling city leaders at a meeting this week that the state would pay the $219,999 bill.

“The first thing out of their mouths was, ‘You’ll have the check for the full amount next week,’ ” said Monroe Mayor Donnetta Walser. “I’m relieved we don’t have to continuing fighting this fight.”

Department spokesman Jeff Weathersby said: “The city convinced the department it was a reasonable request, so we’re paying it.”

The state agency previously paid the city $14,578 to cover costs of finding and repairing the leak.

Rep. Kirk Pearson, R-Monroe, who attended Tuesday morning’s meeting, called it “a big victory for the community.”

“They finally ‘fessed up and realized they did owe that money to the city and the taxpayers,” he said. “When they make a mistake like that, they need to honor their mistake.”

Walser said the bill is for 19,097,936 gallons that spilled between September 2006 and May 15 this year on the grounds of the Monroe Correctional Complex.

“We know it went on longer than that. This is what we actually documented went through their meter,” she said.

She said the cause was an open valve on a water line. “They were supposed to have closed it off, and they didn’t,” she said.

Weathersby said the leak occurred on a remote part of the property outside the facility’s fenced area.

“Nobody knew water was getting spilled,” he said.

Finding the leak and determining responsibility took a bit of time.

Monroe buys its water from Everett. City officials realized last year there might be a problem when they had to pay more because of a sizable increase in water use.

Walser said they asked Everett to double-check its records then set out to track the source.

“We were going crazy trying to find it,” she said. “What was so mystifying is the amount was so enormous that you should have been able to see it.”

Farmers found it, she said, notifying the city of a new pond of water on the prison property. Further investigation led to discovery and repair of the leak.

Since May, the city has sought payment from the state for the water.

Walser said the agency initially refused to pay until receiving documentation of its responsibility.

Weathersby said the agency wanted information on whether Monroe’s taxpayers would bear the burden of paying for the water. Once it became clear they would, agency officials made the decision to pay.

Walser said the city had tapped reserves in its water fund to cover the higher costs. Water rates would have been increased to replenish those reserves if a resolution had not been reached, she said.

This isn’t the first financial dispute between the city and the Department of Corrections.

In 2004, the city sought $218,000 from the state prison to cover its share of police and fire services to the correctional center. The state eventually paid.

Also that year, an agreement was reached for the state prison to pay a higher water rate for usage at the complex.

Reporter Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623 or jcornfieldheraldnet.com.

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