Prichard water board to vote on moratorium on new Alabama Village service

Published: Mar. 12, 2023 at 8:17 PM CDT
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PRICHARD, Ala. (WALA) - The water board is set to vote Monday on a proposal to stop providing service to new customers in the Alabama Village area, effective immediately.

The board also will vote on proposals to make emergency repairs to a mater main and to streamline the process for detecting leaks and adjusting bills.

The Prichard Water Works & Sewer Board has been grappling over what to do about Alabama Village since November, when the operations manager suggested shutting off service to the few remaining residents in the neighborhood. The proposal on Monday’s agenda would prohibit new service, ratifying a policy that the utility’s staff already has implemented.

“We’re not taking any new customers,” board Chairman Russell Heidelburg told FOX10 News.

Alabama Village, which dates to World War II, has 350 to 400 houses. But after decades of decline, there are only 41 customers left, according to the utility. Heidelburg said providing service has become increasingly expensive, with decades-old pipes leaking huge volumes of water. It is one of the biggest reasons why Prichard wastes some $2.7 million worth of water a year, according to a report last month by the Alabama Department of Environmental Management.

But the Rev. Archie Rankin, pastor of Sure Word Outreach Ministries in the heart of Alabama Village, said it would cut off people who miss payments and get their water shut off.

“The people of the water board are getting where if anybody get in a problem and have water disconnected for any reason, water would not be reinstated,” he said.

Rankin said he fears some people could find themselves permanently without water if they fall behind on payments.

“We’ve had problems with extremely high water bills, anyway,” he said. “So that means if they don’t want to take a partial payment, your water is disconnected. … They would know nothing until they find out they can’t take a bath or have no water for hydration.”

The resolution does not specifically address what would happen to existing customers if the utility shut off their water because of missed payments, and Heidelburg said he expects it to be discussed Monday.

“That’s a very difficult question, because some people don’t pay, period. … We just have to draw a line in the sand,” he said.

The utility maintains that some of the distribution lines are in such bad shape that they cannot be repaired.

The proposed resolution makes reference to other findings in the ADEM report – excessive flow of water into sewer pipes that causes lift stations to continuously operate and low flows to fire hydrants. The resolution indicates that some properties illegally may be receiving services and points to “unsafe conditions in Alabama Village that endanger the lives of PWWSB workers or contract preventing them from repairing, maintaining or replacing the System.”

Board member John Johnson Jr. said he is against any change in service to Alabama Village without a comprehensive plan to relocate residents.

“I do not support the moratorium because it’s not a more moratorium,” he said. “It is a trick. … It appears to me that, you know, this is another roundabout way of going in and disconnecting the water to the people of Alabama Village.”

Johnson said it would cause “undo financial stress” on the residents.

“The way that I interpreted is that no new repairs or anything like that are gonna be able to be done unless the existing residents, customers, who reside in Alabama Village are able to pay for them,” he said.

Also up for a vote Monday is a proposal to “streamline” a review process for high bills resulting from undetected leaks. Utility workers would investigate the source of the leak and whether sewage flowed into a home or business as a result. If workers determined a water leak did not enter the sewage system and a licensed plumber fixed the leak, the utility would recalculate the customer’s bill to reflect the wholesale cost of water plus a 25 percent administrative fee.

“The sewer bill will then be adjusted to reflect a normal sewer rate based on the customer’s previous billing cycles,” the resolution states.

In another agenda item, the board will vote on an $88,300 emergency repair to a 2-inch water line on Hill Street. That is from $500,000 approved recently by the Mobile County Commission. But that line is not in the Alabama Village area.

Heidelburg told FOX10 News that the neighborhood simply has deteriorated too badly for repairs to make a meaningful difference. But Rankin said the struggling area should be the top priority.

“I believe if Alabama Village got the worst infrastructure, that should be the starting point,” he said. “Always start at the point and meet you the most. But instead of trying to start to help the people of Alabama Village, they want to abandon Alabama Village. And without giving us any type service, yes, we will collapse.”