CAPE MAY – “It is my opinion, with a reasonable degree of engineering certainty based upon the materials and information reviewed, that West Cape May has been under billed for flow over the last several years. The under billing may have been as high as 2 million gallons per year…” wrote Kevin J. Dixon, whose Galloway Township firm was contracted by the City of Cape May to document water flow from its desalination plant to the Borough of West Cape May.
Dixon’s Oct. 2 report was issued at the conclusion of an Oct. 10 press conference at Cape May City Hall.
The report and its release was the latest chapter in the unresolved dispute between the city and its borough water customer.
West Cape May was armed with its own engineering report by Eden Water Resource Recovery.
At issue is 121 million gallons of water missing from 2003 to 2009 valued at about $695,000.
For its part, West Cape May’s Mayor Pamela Kaithern, who maintained silence at the press conference, issued a written statement.
“West Cape May is glad that after almost three years, Cape May has finally responded to West Cape May’s analysis of the water loss dated January 2011.
“The borough will review this report carefully. Preliminarily, however, we note the following:
The fact is that once Cape May’s meter in Wilbraham Park was shut down, the water “loss” stopped. Cape May’s report fails to address this fact, and provides no alternative explanation for where their “missing” water went.
The report’s results are speculation, not fact. Its conclusions are a back-extrapolation about events in 2005-2011, based on data from 2012-2013, after Cape May’s defective meter was replaced.
At bottom, it appears Cape May’s report is more an attempt by Cape May to avoid any financial responsibility than a true attempt to explain the water loss.
So, in the end we are left with two conflicting accounts that must be reconciled, and a financial responsibly that must be allocated. More than a year ago, West Cape May offered to mediate this dispute with the state mediation service, and Cape May flatly refused.
“West Cape May remains willing to mediate. The ratepayers of West Cape May can rest assured; this administration will continue to work diligently toward proper restitution of funds.”
Dixon detailed his data-based study of water volume billed by the city to West Cape May and the relationship of flows through master meters at Wilbraham Park and Canning House Lane.
The “master” meter at Canning House Lane, located about 100 feet from the desalination plant where the water is purified, records what leaves the plant. The “master” meter at Wilbraham Park records what water returns to Cape May after it is made available to West Cape May.
The water loss was brought to Cape May officials’ attention by the West Cape May Taxpayers Association, said Mayor Edward Mahaney Jr.
Cape May, in 2012, installed new master meters prior to the tourist season, at a total cost of $269,089. That included meters ($34,770) cost to install, ($219,919), engineering ($14,400), said Bruce MacLeod, city administrator.
Dixon cited the inaccuracies of old meters, which inaccurately measured flow if it was less than 40 gallons per minute. When flow reached 100 gallons per minute or over, he said those meters seemed to function correctly.
Regardless of metering, a great quantity of water was unaccounted.
“One thing we were not tasked with doing was determine the origin of the discrepancy. A discrepancy still exists,” said Dixon. Accurate flows were recorded over the past 12 months, he said. There was still a different amount entering through the Canning House Lane meter than what was returning, he said.
“One would expect that difference would be zero. That is not the case. Our report does not study the potential causes of why that water is not being returned through the Wilbraham Park meter. One conclusion is that water is entering West Cape May system it is physically not being returned to Wilbraham Park. The difference accrues to West Cape May,” Dixon said.
In summation, he said, “The issue lies on the West Cape May side of the Canning House Lane meter. The Edens’ report goes into several theories why that may be the case. I would call them standard theories with which I would not disagree.”
The Edens’ report was “not ready to dismiss the possibility of leaks. Leaks can be detected.”
“It is not impossible a significant amount of water leaking through pipes undetected,” Dixon said. Leaks, he noted, were among “legitimate theories” contained in Edens’ report. Until the actual origin of the discrepancy is found, Dixon said, it is “not from the meters now installed or from the meters that were preexisting to the extent reported in the Edens’ report.”
Mahaney said Dixon’s firm had “a very specific charge given.” He said city council wanted a “deliberate focus” that the study is done in an unbiased third-party manner.
“If the City of Cape May is vulnerable for part or all, we would make whole the other party,” the mayor said. “Our major focus, there is obviously some missing water…We remain committed ready willing and able to determine the water loss in their system. We will make our personnel, equipment and technical knowledge available to the Borough of West Cape May.
“Loss of water is not acceptable in this day and age,” said Mahaney. “It is a very valued and expensive commodity. We cannot replace it. We are one of the few water utilities owned by the municipality and services a region. We are one of only two in Cape May County that has a secure and stable potable water supply for the next 25 years. No way do we want to endanger that status,” the mayor concluded.