By DONNA SCHILL CLEVELAND Ledger staff writer | Sep 20, 2012
Fairfield water department superintendent Carl Chandler shared a proposal to halt implementation of radio-read water meters and to reimburse citizens for opt-out fees for the meters Wednesday night during a Water & Sewer Utilities Committee meeting at city hall.
In addition, Chandler proposed the one-third of residents with radio-read water meters have the right to have them removed by the water department at no cost.
Chandler met with Mayor Ed Malloy and city administrator Kevin Flanagan to come to a decision on the matter, and said their reasons for moving away from radio-read meters were two-fold.
Firstly, Flanagan presented a long-term plan to use a fiber-optic network to read the touch-pad water meters already present in two-thirds of Fairfield residents’ homes. He informed Chandler he’d spoken with Alliant Energy and local service providers about possible partnerships for the project. He said the project is still in “the conceptual stages,” and would likely be three to four years out before beginning it.
Flanagan projected the plan to cost roughly $3.6 million, and said he was looking into government grants to cover the majority of the project. He said a telecommunication utility could cover the remaining expenses, and would not require residents use the fiber access for anything but the meters.
“People won’t need to accept any other services,” said Flanagan.
In the meantime, the water department has agreed to resume manually reading meters.
“This is a step back in time today as far as technology goes, but will help prepare us for the future,” said Chandler.
He said the decision also is “an effort to relieve tensions in the community.”
The meters in question are about the size of a matchbox, have a 3 inch tall clear antenna and transmit wireless radio signals for 7 milliseconds every 14 seconds. The water department began implementing the meters roughly 10 years ago. To date, about one third of residents have the radio-read meters in their homes.
Beginning in May, a number of residents began expressing concerns that signals from the devices could be harmful to their health. The city responded by creating an opt-out program to remove radio-read meters. The program cost residents $75 dollars per hour for switching back to a touch-pad meter, and an ongoing $10 monthly fee for those choosing to have a non-radio meter. The program originally carried a $100 one-time installation fee, but the city later waived it in response to complaints from citizens.
Since the opt-out program was established, the water department has replaced 40 meters.
“In our proposal, in the interest of being fair and honest, the labor and changes will be credited back to the homeowners,” said Chandler.
Chandler said the water department will replace radio-read meters with touch-pad meters only if they break down, or upon special request from homeowners.
“We’re not going to change them just because,” he said. “But if people want them removed we’ll do that at no cost.”
Chandler said his department will absorb the extra labor of reading and replacing meters.
“This shows that the city of Fairfield is flexible and accommodating, and trying to do the right thing,” said committee member Susan Silvers.
Resident John Brown of Wonder Way was in attendance, and was pleased with the outcome after months of protesting the meters. Brown has met with Flanagan to present research regarding fiber-optic meter technology.
“This plan will provide for the safety of citizens and ultimately a more efficient system,” he said. “ … It was honorable to refund fees paid by those who chose to opt out.”
Committee member Tony Hammes agreed to the proposal, but not without some consternation.
“I wish this could have come three months ago,” said committee member Tony Hammes, “but if it’s for a better future, I’m for it.”