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Water fixed for St. Albans home, but battle to ensue

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Nearly three months of water hassles for a family in St. Albans came to an end Tuesday when the Department of Environmental Protection completed repair of a service line the agency neither broke nor had the responsibility to fix. Now the fallout begins.

Freddiemae Johnson, a resident of 118-28 189th St., said she plans to pursue legal action against Great Bay Construction Corp., a company building a church behind her home whose workers, Johnson claims, inadvertently ruptured her service line on July 18.

“I’m going to sue them,” Johnson said.

The service line runs from the back of Johnson’s house, where she lives with her husband and three children, to a water main beneath the street. After enduring two sweltering days in July without running water, Johnson, a home health attendant, initiated a series of desperate measures. She bought a 100-foot garden hose from The Home Depot and had two DEP workers connect it to the hydrant in front of her house.

For 82 days in a row, she and her family relied on a low-pressure stream from the hydrant through the hose to a water heater.

“The pressure of the water coming in the house was no good,” Johnson said. “I’ve been through so much, a lot of stress. It’s been very aggravating.”

Johnson’s repeated calls to Great Bay foreman Bobby Ramirez and his supervisor, Gerard Howell, resulted in promises but no action, Johnson said.

“I’m not at liberty to give out any information on this,” said Ramirez, who referred questions to his supervisor. Howell did not respond to several messages left on his cell phone.

Johnson, 42, hired a lawyer and had certified letters sent to concerned parties, including Councilman Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans), whose staff helped her navigate a bureaucratic maze. Ultimately, the DEP decided to fix the line despite a burden of repair that falls on the company constructing Unity Temple of Christ behind Johnson’s home.

“As a rule, we don’t fix service lines,” said DEP spokeswoman Natalie Millner. “Service lines are privately owned and the responsibility of the homeowner. However, this is a very unusual case, so we’re connecting and fixing the line.”

The DEP began digging in Johnson’s yard Sunday morning. It brought in plumbers Monday and had the job finished on Tuesday.

“I’m happy. I’m satisfied,” Johnson said. “I’m getting water back in my house the way it’s supposed to be.”

But she hastened to add a litany of complaints against the DEP, saying the department replaced her water meter with a piece of pipe and then claimed that she was stealing from the city by using the hydrant.

“The DEP has been very helpful, but they put me through a lot, too,” Johnson said. “They told me I didn’t have a meter in my house and that I wasn’t paying my water bill. I pay my bills and do what I’m supposed to do so I won’t have problems in the world ... I had to go over their heads to get something done, and I don’t think it should have (gone) that far.”

However, Johnson reserved her harshest criticism for the construction company.

“They told me they were waiting for a permit to fix my line,” Johnson alleged. “But they never filed for one because it would have had to go through DEP and DEP said they never got a request. [GBC Corp.] even told that to the lawyer I hired.”

Millner echoed Johnson’s criticism Friday, two days before DEP workers began digging, and said the department would take steps to correct someone else’s mistake.

“What the contractor did was outrageous,” Millner said. “Essentially, he cut off her water service, which was a reprehensible thing to do. He’s responsible for cutting off her service, and he’s responsible for restoring it. In the meantime, we’re making sure she has service. We’re not going to let her water supply get cut off.”

Reach reporter Joe Whalen by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 146.

Posted 7:24 pm, October 10, 2011
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