Vandalism Blamed for Emptying Plantation Bay’s Water Supply, Leaving Customers Dry
FlaglerLive | January 18, 2016
Last Updated: 3:16 p.m.
Note: The boil water notice for the users of Flagler County’s Plantation Bay water system was rescinded on Thursday, Jan. 21.
It’s not as bad as Flint, Mich., and residents of Plantation Bay are not to about to get an emergency declaration for their water problems from President Obama, as Flint did on Saturday. But for the second time in three years, the Plantation Bay utility’s 1,600 customers, including businesses, woke up to no water Monday.
This time, vandals may be to blame.
“There’s water that comes out but it’s just dribbling out,” said Keith Brown of Dixie Commons Animal Hospital. He had to cancel all his grooming appointments for today, rescheduling them for Wednesday. He estimates a loss of $400 from those appointments alone. “This could have a long term effect on me which could be devastating to my business.”
Property owners at some point this morning got a note from Preferred Management Services, the whose clients include many homeowner associations: “Vandals got into the empty lots at Plantation Reserve and turned on all the water valves for all the empty lots which in turn emptied the holding tank for the entire Plantation Bay area. It is going to be at least 2 hours before your water service will be restored after which, there will be a 72 hour boil water advisory. Please share this information with your tenants if you rent out your townhome as well as your neighbors.”
The Plantation Bay utility has been a history of trouble for several years because of neglect when it was in the hands of Plantation Bay’s original developer, Mori Hosseini. That led to the utility’s acquisition by Bunnell and county government three years ago, for $5.5 million. Last year Flagler County took over Bunnell’s share. New problems emerged, which the county is now trying to solve. Bill Green, who had been Bunnell’s utility director, moved to the county to manage the operation. But Green took another job in Jacksonville two weeks ago.
This being Martin Luther King Day, property owners tried and failed to reach any officials to get word on their latest water woes: some voice-mail boxes were full and would not take messages while calls to county government went unanswered. The lack of response exposed another fault line in the county’s assurance to residents that county control of the utility would also mean better customer service. County Administrator Craig Coffey and Facilities Director Heidi Petito did not return calls to their cell phones Monday morning. A county spokesperson called on the administrator’s behalf in early afternoon (Coffey returned a call just after 4 p.m.).
Jim Troiano, a sheriff’s spokesman, said at mid-morning that no one had reported the alleged vandalism until a reporter’s inquiries, but that a deputy was on his way to investigate the case, and that a report on the incident would be filed later today. (That does not mean that county officials were not aware of the water problem several hours before Preferred Management’s notice went out to property owners.) Troiano later specified that some 20 water valves had been opened, with a loss estimated at of $2,500. Felony criminal mischief charges are pending against the miscreant. Troiano said there are no known surveillance cameras in the area of the crime, but that anyone with information should contact the sheriff’s office at 386-437-4116 or CrimeStoppers at 888-277-8477.
Just after noon, Kevin Guthrie, who heads the county’s emergency services operations, confirmed that the criminal mischief took place in an undeveloped part of Plantation Reserve, which has all the utility infrastructure in place but no houses yet. The valves were accessible from the street. But, Guthrie stressed, there was no criminal mischief or vandalism to the water plant itself. He said 400,000 gallons of water were released, necessitating the boil-water notice until at least Thursday at noon.
The county issued a release on the incident at 2:20 p.m., in which Petito is quoted as saying that “the boil water notice is precautionary, and is required any time the water pressure drops below a certain level.”
Residents were reporting water flowing again sometime after 10 a.m. But many have previously told county officials in public meetings that they don’t trust the water, and have their own stash of bottled water.
Others, among them Jane Gentile-Youd, say they‘ve always kept five gallons of water ready in case of weather emergencies. That water came in handy for Gentile-Yound this morning when, opening her faucet upstairs, “all I heard was a squish. Downstairs in the kitchen there was just a dribble.”
Brown at Dixie Commons Animal Hospital is more blunt. “I don’t know what’s in the water, I really don’t trust it,” he said.
As an isolated incident, the water loss today may not have overly concerned Plantation bay residents. But as the latest in an accumulation of problems, it left them livid, as their reactions on an online, invitation-only board for Plantation Bay residents indicated.
“This is an incredibly SERIOUS matter,” one property owner wrote. “There is absolutely no excuse for this happening…proper prevention/precautions were obviously not in place. It could have been disastrous has a fire occurred…wow.”
Another property owner was looking to attend the next county commission meeting “and ask why there were no locks on the water valves, ” she wrote. “Is there an alarm system anywhere and who will be responsible for picking up the tab for all the wasted water. That place must be flooded.” To another resident, “This water issue has finally reached rock bottom I think we should get the Governors office involved.”
Gentile-Youd, who started the thread, wrote: “This should never happen and I hope we work together to try our best to let the ‘powers in charge’ that we want every measure taken to prevent a re-[occurrence] and make sure that IF it does that the local fire department would be immediately notified and have water reserves in case of a fire in the district!”