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Archive for Tuesday, August 18, 1992

COMMISSIONERS HEAR SIDES IN SPRINKLER DISPUTE

August 18, 1992

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Local plumbers and lawn sprinkler installers continued treading water Monday in their battle over installing thin piping that could mean hundreds of dollars in added costs to sprinkler system owners.

As in previous talks, the two sides bickered over the smallest details and frequently interrupted each other, prompting scolding from Lawrence city commissioners during the study session.

When the steam cleared, commissioners decided only that they should free a spot on the agenda of an upcoming meeting to consider the issue.

"The question for me is safety, but I want the systems installed as economically as possible," said Commissioner Bob Schumm. "I think we owe it to the general public to make a decision one way or another."

The two sides agreed that the issue boiled down to a thin piece of piping connecting sprinkler system shutoff valves to special water safety devices.

The city's Board of Plumbers and Gas Fitter Examiners says the pipe is part of the "potable water system," loosely defined as water suitable for drinking.

City plumbing laws say that only licensed plumbers can work with the potable water system. Copper piping must be used, according to the plumbing code.

Sprinkler installers want to install the piping and use less expensive plastic pipes, as they have done for many years while city inspectors failed to enforce the plumbing code.

New water safety laws require that a system's water safety device a backflow preventer must be placed several inches above ground, creating a water pipe arm in owners' yards.

Installers think their 600-plus customers will want to move the arm closer to their homes to prevent an eyesore, thus requiring more pipe.

"Basically, a lot of the concern I have is the cost of the retrofit," said Glen Westervelt, president of Lawrence Landscaping.

Copper piping costs about a dollar per foot more than plastic, Westervelt said. A visit from a plumber also would drive up the cost of installing the pipe, installers said.

"If this gets too expensive, you're not going to have as many customers," Schumm told the installers.

Roy Chaney, the chairman of the plumbing board, told commissioners lawn chemicals might seep through the plastic piping and contaminate a home's water supply.

He added that allowing sprinkler installers to do the work of a licensed plumber was like letting a police officer do the work of an attorney.

Because the meeting room was booked for a later meeting, the study session ended before commissioners could resolve all their concerns.

However, a couple of commissioners had taken positions on the issue by this morning.

"I stand with the plumbing board and the plumbing codes, period," said Commissioner Shirley Martin-Smith. "I think this is an issue of safety, not cost. I think the work belongs to the plumbing trade."

Schumm said that if the irrigators were certified to work with backflow prevention devices and the city inspected their work, he didn't see any harm to the public.

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