Rec center tapped into Whalley water

The question of water use at Southwick's Whalley Park has gotten bogged down by claims of illegal activity.  (File photo by chief photographer Frederick Gore)

The question of who should pay for water use at Southwick’s Whalley Park has gotten bogged down by claims of illegal activity. (File photo by chief photographer Frederick Gore)

SOUTHWICK – The question of who should pay a nearly $70,000 Whalley Park water bill has taken another turn.
The Southwick Recreation Center last week told Department of Public Works Director Jeffrey Neece that the center was hooked up to the park’s water line.
The large water bill was given to the Parks and Recreation Commission last fall after Town Meeting officially acceped the park, a gift from John and Kathy Whalley. The commission disputed the bill and said this week that since taking over running the town-owned park in November of 2012, no water has been used at all.
The Parks and Recreation Commission was in the midst of working on the problem with the Water Commission when the Recreation Center stepped forward.
Neece told the Water Commission yesterday that on Friday, April 26, Southwick Recreation Center President Kirk Sanders came to him with the news.
“He said he got a call from Russ Fox the night before,” said Neece.
Fox, the Rec Center’s vice president of building, as well as a member of the Southwick Board of Selectmen, said that he first heard of the connection April 25 from the center’s summer sports director JB DeJean.
“When JB told me, I turned it right over to our president,” Fox said.
Water Commissioners met last night with members of the Park and Recreation Commission and John Whalley to discuss the situation.
Neece told the commissions that there was no permit pulled for the work and plans to hook into the water pipe were never presented to the DPW or water commissioners.
Neece met earlier in the week with Park and Recreation Commissioners, Sanders and the company that installed the pipe, Down Under Construction.
The company representative claimed he was just doing what his boss told him to do, said Parks and Recreation Commissioner Daniel Call.
Call said he had a hard time believing the company was without some responsibility.
“I’m sure as an installer there has to be some permits, and with a permit, there are rules,” said Call.
Neece said they need to know who authorized the connection and when.
Whalley said he was approached by someone from the Recreation Center “a long time ago” about tapping into his line rather than going all the way to the street.
“I said I didn’t care, but I didn’t know they did it or that they did it behind the meter,” said Whalley.
Neece said about 1,500 feet of pipe runs from the Recreation Center fields to the pipe at Whalley Park. He told commissioners that the Center claimed this week it was installed last year but Neece said the grass above the pipe is completely grown in.
“It was put in at least two years ago,” Neece speculated. “What bothers me is they ran 1,500 feet of pipe – that’s not an afterthought – it was planned.”
Parks Commission Chairman Kelly Magni said it was “hard to believe” that no one on the Recreation Center Board of Directors knew about the connection.
He said, at the very least, the Center “paid for it.”
“Somebody knew. What they did was illegal,” said Water Commission Chairman Luther Hosmer. “In some way, they stole water, It’s a felony and it’s a big deal.”
Fellow commissioner Edward Johnson agreed and said he was going to pursue the matter.
“I’m not backing down on this,” he said.
Hosmer said they would take legal action to find out how it happened, and said right now how the bill would be paid is secondary to straightening out the timeline of events.
Hosmer and Johnson both said Whalley has some responsibility in the matter, too. They said it was not Whalley’s decision to allow a connection.
The Water Commission agreed to send a letter to the Recreation Center board and request they attend the commission’s next meeting.

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