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Niagara Falls Water Board denies culpability in 72nd Street water repairs

NIAGARA FALLS – The Niagara Falls Water Board says paying for the 72nd Street water main project is the city’s problem.

The response came a day after the City Council unanimously passed a resolution calling on the Water Board to pay the project tab of nearly $1 million.

Paul Drof, executive director of the Water Board, said Tuesday that the mayor and the Water Board chairman signed an agreement in December that holds the Water Board harmless from claims or actions on the project.

“That is the agreement we are operating under. What went on last night went above and beyond our agreement,” said Drof.

Council Chairman Andrew P. Touma said the Council was aware of the agreement but pointed to a recent audit conducted by the state Controller’s Office that determined there was an excess of cash and recommended it be used for capital projects, repairs or to reduce the water and sewer rates.

Drof said the problems on 72nd Street were never their problem, adding that the water mains owned by the Water Board were not affected by the cold of winters in 2014 and 2015.

He said the problem is the lateral lines to each home – the responsibility of homeowners, not the city or the Water Board.

“Our main in the street never froze,” said Drof.

He also suggested the city may have caused the problems.

“The project that reconstructed 72nd Street in the first place was done in 2010. There was no problem on 72nd Street until the severe winters of 2013-14 and 2014-15. Those waterlines did not freeze prior to that. And prior to the street reconstruction, we had very little issues with frozen pipes,” said Drof. “The pipes’ depth remained the same, but what changed is the amount of insulation factor on top of the pipe.”

A 2015 investigation into the frozen waterline conducted by Glynn Geotechnical Engineering determined that the extreme cold was a factor because crushed stone used to replace clay soil decreased the insulation by 30 percent. The study also said the original waterlines and service lines were not buried to the minimum recommended frost depth of 48 inches.

But Drof said it was the city’s decision to relocate the waterline and bury it lower.

Touma said it should have been the job of the Niagara Falls Water Board.

“They said they had no money and weren’t supporting the project and we felt it was necessary to do it,” said Touma, who added that the city is not playing the blame game but suggested that the Water Board voluntarily reimburse the city.

“That’s what the resolution was all about. Before you [the Water Board] said you didn’t have the money, now that you do, in good faith, you should pay the city at least half,” said Touma.

However, Drof said the audit stating that the Water Board had excess money has not been verified.

“Some of those capital funds were obligated for projects that were on the books,” said Drof. “We borrowed money in anticipation of paying for Phase III Waste Water improvements, which is about $5 million.”

The Water Board will hold a work session at 5 p.m Thursday in its headquarters at 56th Street and Buffalo Avenue. The board’s next regular meeting is at 5 p.m. April 28.