BANGOR, Maine — There are few Bangor homeowners who can say they also own their water main and waterlines, but that’s a distinction the owners of five residential properties on Winter Street would rather not have these days.
“I always knew it was a fairly exclusive club because there are very few in the city,” said Lucia Williams-Young, who has been living in one of the residences for the better part of 50 years. “I don’t think it’s ever been a topic of conversation, though.”
It’s a recurring topic of conversation now that the galvanized iron main is leaking for the first time in its 106-year life. The line started leaking sometime in November or December, and the Bangor Water District notified residents officially in January, asking them to repair it — at their own expense — by April 15.
“I don’t think there’s even 1 percent of private lines for residential users left in Bangor,” said Kathy Moriarty, the water district’s general manager. “Private mains aren’t unusual, but they are usually owned by development planners building a mall or something like that.”
The 165-foot water main was installed six feet underground on privately owned land between Fremont Street, where the closest public main is, and Winter Street in 1906. It connects to two 120-foot waterline sections supplying city water to the residents living at 24, 30, 34, 38 and 42 Winter St. There is also another private main serving four or five houses on the other side of the street.
The leak appears to be under a dirt driveway at 34 Winter St., a large, Victorian-style house that recently was converted into a multiunit apartment building. Owner Mike Tatarcyk spoke at a Bangor City Council meeting last month to ask for assistance in repairing the leak, but was told that the main is private, based on Maine Public Utilities Commission information and deed research, and that the homeowners served by the line must bear the responsibility for its repair and maintenance.
“I’ve always known that it was a private line. My parents bought the house around 1939,” said Williams-Young, a costume director for the University of Maine’s School for Performing Arts. “The whole problem that led to this being private is Winter Street has ledge coming right up onto the street almost and they couldn’t get anything in there without blasting.”
The leak area alternates with the weather between a tiny ice rink and a large puddle of water bubbling up in the driveway. The leak hasn’t affected water quality or pressure for any of the line’s users, according to Moriarty and three homeowners.
“There’s water running down from above across my driveway and creating an ice buildup,” said Dan Barteau, who owns a two-unit apartment building at 38 Winter St. “I was concerned about water in the basement, but the building hasn’t been affected. It’s still a nuisance.”
It’s an expensive nuisance, however: Repair cost estimates range from $1,000 to $150,000, depending on which of five options homeowners pick.
That’s a daunting price range for homeowners such as Mary Kenny.
“It’s pretty expensive, and at my age I don’t see getting a loan,” said Kenny, who has lived at 24 Winter St. since 1965.
The short-term solution is the most viable.
“We can dig it up, patch it, and fill it back in. That would work as a short-term fix that could be done as early as April and be good for a few years,” said Adam Williams, Lucia’s husband and a resident of 42 Winter St. for the last 30 years. “That would give us time to check into alternative sources of funding to pay for a permanent fix.”
Moriarty has provided the homeowners with a list of possible repair options (all costs are approximate):
• Repair just the leak for $1,000.
• Replace the private main with 2-inch polyethylene pipe for $29,000.
• Install individual service lines running from the main on Fremont to the Winter Street houses at about $4,800 per line (not including easement fees).
• Replace the private main with materials meeting water district specifications — which could result in the district accepting the line as a public main — for $78,000, plus $2,000 for each service line off the new main.
• Install a new water main down Winter Street for $126,000 plus $2,000 for each new service line.
The private line used to serve six houses, but former resident John Rohman, also a former Bangor Water District trustee, chose to disconnect his service at 14 Winter St. and pay to connect to the line on Fremont in 1980.
So now the homeowners are evaluating their options while waiting for the weather to warm up enough for them to dig in and find the leak.
Moriarty has suggested repair funding options such as Bangor’s Residential Rehabilitation Loan Program. Adam Williams also will check with the PUC.
And after that?
“I really don’t know. If we continue on one line, we would have to have everyone agree on a course,” said Williams-Young. “I think everyone’s in agreement we have to at least get a temporary patch done.”
Rather than react in an adversarial or hostile manner, residents have been fairly understanding and accepting.
“It doesn’t do any good to start frothing at the mouth,” said Williams, an AmeriCorps member attached to the Hope House. “Something is going to have to be done, and it is going to cost some money.”