Unmarked Water Meter Pits Could Stall Home Resales in Barnegat Light

Whether hidden under landscaping or not, meter pits must be located by Barnegat Light residents before they can obtain a certificate of occupancy to sell their houses. That is the last word after a long discussion at the borough council caucus and regular meeting Oct. 10, as Mayor Kirk Larson clarified to The SandPaper this week.

“We have an ordinance on the books that says your meter pit has to be visible at all times; that’s already on the books,” Larson said. “What we’re going to do is on resale C.O.s, we want that ordinance enforced; you have to show where the meter pit is.”

Barnegat Light is the latest Island municipality to be embarking on a state-mandated project to install water meters for water conservation purposes. Installation of residential meters would not occur before sometime next year.

The borough will solicit bids for the project, it was announced at the Oct. 10 meeting, rather than contract with Stafford Township, as had been planned. The reason given for that is that the current slate of mayor and council in Stafford lost in the June primary.

In response to a question from the audience, the mayor said residents will not be billed to have new meters installed.

For the past year, Barnegat Light residents have been asked to look for the existing meter pits in their yards in anticipation of the project that will install modern digital meters. Some residents have covered their meter pits over with landscaping, Larson and other council members have pointed out. That is complicating the issue of finding them.

At recent meetings, the borough council had also considered an ordinance requiring residents to replace the meter pit if it was found to be crushed or otherwise damaged, before selling the home, but that restriction was never voted on. The mayor had been absent from the September meeting, so a long discussion ensued at the October meeting.

Explained Larson after the meeting, “I was trying to do like Harvey Cedars does: Before you can get a resale C.O., you have to get a working meter pit and shutoff valve. I was trying to do that in Barnegat Light, but now since we’re going out to bid for the new meters, why make people put a new meter pit in if we’re going to have a contractor put them in anyway?”

Meanwhile, a strong disagreement ensued over what to tell a few dozen or more homeowners where meter pits were searched for but not found by borough crews.

Councilman Michael Spark, past chairman of the water/sewer committee on council, insisted that those property owners should not be held to a requirement to look further for them. Most of the properties are on the ocean side, he said.

He said, “These people have been our loyal taxpayers more than likely for the past 20 or 30 years. … My concern is what do you tell the homeowner and his plumber who has made every attempt to find the thing and it’s not physically there?”

Spark added that he was concerned about elderly people trying to sell their properties who could have been penalized “when they want to leave or their estate is trying to be settled, if the meter pit cannot physically be found or in other cases never was there.”

He said, “There are some that are nice and neat; there are some that somebody can poke a stick and find it 6 or 7 inches down; some are never going to find it … and that’s my concern, when they dig and it’s not physically there; they’re going to come back and sue us. We have a record of the ones that we have not been able to find through due diligence.”

Said Larson, “I think a lot of them are just buried under people’s gardens; people planted trees on top of them.

“All we’re saying is, find it. If it’s crushed, just find something so our people can mark it, and we’re going to go out to bid on this. It seems to me that when water is pouring under the house, the pipes are all broken, somebody seems to find something to shut the water off … whether we find the main or whatever we find, that’s what we’re asking the people to locate.”

Meter pits are usually 25 feet from the front of the house, on town property, the mayor said. Town crews are drawing blue indicator lines on the street marking the line to where the pit should be.

The mayor added this week, “All of the meter pits are supposed to be on town property, so if someone builds a big garden on top, we allow it, but if they build it on top of the meter pit, we’re not happy because it has to be dug up to find the meter pit.”

At the meeting, Councilman Ed Wellington also pointed out the need for homeowners to find their meter pits if they are covered by landscaping.

“If we have 30 to 50 homes where they can’t be found and some of them are going to be sold over the next year or so, you’re talking a small number. The bigger issue is the other 1,200 houses where the people have landscaped or done other things to hide their meter.”

He showed a picture. “Here is one of many, that I happened to take a photograph of … here is a homeowner who has put Belgian block right up to the macadam street. Behind it he has landscaped beautifully. Behind that he’s got stone, and to the left of it he’s got pavers. He has marked a spot, somewhere in that landscaping is that meter.

“When he goes to sell the house, if we don’t do anything, he’s going to sell, walk away, and a new homeowner is going to come in and we’re going to break up that landscaping, the Belgian block and everything to find that meter.”

Mary Ellen Foley, council chairwoman of the water/sewer committee, said real estate agencies will be notified to tell their clients about the enforcement of the existing ordinance, “that this is going to be the case, and a requirement for resale.”

The question asked by Spark seemed to linger the following week – Foley suggested any meters that absolutely could not be found could be taken on a case-by-case basis.

Spark’s last words to the public at the meeting, on homeowners finding the pits, had been “Or in the meantime, don’t sell your property, and in a year, we’re going to do it for you, no matter what it costs. Think about that … wait a year or two before you sell, and we will do it for you for nothing; that’s the other side of the argument.”

However, the mayor, in a telephone interview the week after the council meeting, held firm to the ordinance being enforced.

Otherwise, he said, “everybody could say they can’t find their meter pit. We’re saying put an effort into finding it.” He said if property owners can at least find the water line shutoff valve, that should be the location of the pit. “There has to be a shutoff valve, and usually near the shutoff valve is the meter pit.”

The mayor added, “We’re not taking no for an answer. We started out last year being nice, asking locate your pit. There’s no, ‘Oh well, if you didn’t find it, it’s all right.’ It’s not all right.”

Rule Against Wildlife Feeding Remains Dormant

A proposed ordinance to ban feeding wildlife on public property “as determined by the health department” was still not introduced. Discussion had been carried over from the September meeting.

The rule was on the agenda to be introduced on first reading, but it ended with council taking a wait-and-see approach, hoping there are no further problems. The prohibition had been suggested after complaints were received about a resident feeding gulls that were filling “her whole front yard” and leading to “noise” and “droppings” onto neighboring property, as council members summed up.

Spark asked for confirmation that all six council members agreed that if there is another such incident, the proposed ordinance could be considered for adoption. No one disagreed.

— Maria Scandale

Reposted from The Sandpaper