Two Napoleon committees will meet next week, and one of them will discuss whether a change needs to be made to the way the city marks utilities for property owners.
The Napoleon Water, Sewer, Refuse, Recycling and Litter Committee will meet Monday at 7 p.m. at the city building. The lone item on its agenda was referred there by council following a complaint from a resident a few weeks ago.
Kathy Hoover approached council in December asking the city to pay for the full portion of expenses she said she incurred on a home building project due to errors made by city staff in marking sewer hookups.
She told council the first mark was made and crews dug down. She said they were told by city staff the hookup should be 7-10 feet down, but after going that far the hookup couldn’t be found. Crews then had to fill the hole to bring a safety cage in to go deeper.
“We went a total of 13 feet and there was nothing there,” Hoover said.
She called the city and again someone was sent out and they marked a different spot about 22 feet away. That put the spot next to a tree, which the city cut down but she had to have the stump removed.
“We started digging, and nothing, again,” she added.
On the third time, a staff member came out and was able to mark a spot within four inches of the hookup, between the two original markings.
Hoover said the issues have cost her an additional $4,000 in expenses on the project, though she feels none of it is her fault. She added she received a $1,200 check from the city as way of reimbursement, but added she is not satisfied with that and as such has not cashed that check. She would like the reimbursement for the full amount.
City Manager Joel Mazur explained the markings are something the city provides for residents when asked, but said it cannot guarantee the marking will be correct. He and City Public Works Director Chad Lulfs said to be accurate, a camera needs to be snaked through the sewer line, which can be expensive.
“There’s responsibility on the private property owner’s part as well,” Mazur said. “When we go out and mark utilities, we go out and mark to the best ability we have.
“We want to provide a good service, obviously we could have done a better job,” Mazur added, noting the two original markings were done by personnel with more than 60 years of experience.
Mazur said it’s not uncommon to have utility services marked incorrectly, and that’s why he felt the $1,200 reimbursement was appropriate though there is no obligation on the city’s part.
The city’s water and sewer rules say staff will try to locate utilities according to the best information available to the city.
“Field personnel didn’t have, apparently, the correct information, but that wasn’t their fault,” Lulfs said. “My staff gave it their best effort with the information they had available.”
He added by city staff doing this, it didn’t require Hoover to use a robotic camera in the sewer line to locate the tap.
Lulfs said the state requires property owners to mark utilities and the city will do so if it has the information.
“There are parts of town where we have zero information on the location of a tap,” Lulfs said. “In those cases, the property owner is required to use a robot in the sewer main to locate that sewer tap.”
When the first mistake was made, Lulfs said a tablet was utilized using the city’s GIS system, but not all of the city’s utility information has been added yet. The system has been updated over the last seven years, but council only budgets enough each year for a portion of what needs done.
Lulfs said someone also needs to physically enter the information into the system, and he does not have the current staff to do it. He added he has been trying to hire an intern to do it but with little luck, though he added someone did spend some time over Christmas doing it.
Lulfs said the city makes similar markings about once every week or two, and usually they are accurate and he can only remember one other time when a marking was off by several feet.
Council President Joe Bialorucki said he thinks the city should pay more than $1,200, to which Councilman Dan Baer agreed.
“I think one of the things, procedurally is that on our end, going forward, we’ll have to take a look internally at how not to take on that responsibility,” Mazur said.
“Because it is a good service, but then when we miss, then it turns into this,” he added. “It feels like from a manager’s perspective, it feels like a no good deed goes unpunished type of thing.”
He said that could mean property owners would have to camera the pipe if they can’t find the tap, or the city might do one marking, stating it’s not guaranteed, and if it’s incorrect the property owner would have to camera it.
Also meeting Monday will be the Napoleon Electric Committee in joint session with the Napoleon Board of Public Affairs beginning at 6:15 p.m. Those bodies will receive an update on the substations and the December electric report.