Public Service Commission: Janesville wrong to charge for thawing pipes

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Marcia Nelesen
Saturday, February 22, 2014

JANESVILLE--The Janesville Water Utility did not give residents adequate warning to relieve the utility of a state requirement to pay for the first thaw of a customer's frozen water service pipe.

The cost to thaw a service pipe is estimated at $200 to $300.

The city has received 159 calls this season so far from residents with frozen service pipes, which carry water into homes from water mains. The bitter cold pushed the frost deep into the ground.

The state Public Service Commission requires the city to pay for the first thaw unless it has given specific warnings to residents telling customers how to mitigate freezing, such as running water continuously through the pipes, said Nathan Conrad, communications director from the PSC, in an email to The Gazette.

Janesville utility officials had said notifying residents through the media was sufficient notice.

“A first thaw of an electrically conductive lateral is at the utility's expense if the utility has not provided the customer with seasonal notice of the corrective actions to be taken for a known condition,” according to the email.

While many customers are likely to receive the message via the media, all customers must be notified by letter or by a message left on a door handle. Otherwise, the utility is responsible for the first thaw, according to the email.

The utility also is responsible for thawing the pipes if the corrective actions it advises are not sufficient to prevent freezing.

Dave Botts, utility director, said the utility has been charging some residents for the first thaw because of an initial misunderstanding with the PSC.

“We will be in contact with residents who may have been charged for their first thaw and cover those costs,” Botts said.

The utility has sent letters or used door hangers to notify residents who live in areas vulnerable to pipes freezing, Botts said in the past.

On a brighter note, calls about frozen pipes have been “greatly reduced,” Botts said.

The utility was getting up to 20 calls a day for several days in or near areas the city had identified.

Friday, the utility received only two calls for service.

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