City officials say all costs have been paid after a local construction company allegedly removed a safety device on a city fire hydrant and used it to fill a golf course pond.
The hydrant was allegedly opened at the Jayhawk Club in the evening hours of March 21. Lawrence police arrived at 8:30 p.m. and found a city-owned hydrant attachment being used to dispense water. The attachment was collected, but not before about 900,000 gallons of city water had flowed into the pond.
The event resulted in a municipal court case in which Casey Lee Stewart was charged with removing a safety device from the hydrant attachment that prevents water contamination. Stewart, who entered a diversion agreement Aug. 23, paid the city about $950 in fines and restitution, according to the agreement.
It would take an average household using 4,000 gallons of water per month about 20 years to use 900,000 gallons of water.
Stewart is an employee of DFC, which is redeveloping the former Alvamar golf course. DFC is owned by Thomas Fritzel, who is a relative of Stewart’s.
The city has various rates for water use, and irrigation rates are $6.10 per 1,000 gallons while hydrant rates are $4.72. Using hydrant water rates, as opposed to irrigation rates, cost the construction company, DFC, about $1,230 less for the water.
The Jayhawk Club did not have an irrigation meter at the time of the incident, according to Jeanette Klamm, management analyst for the utilities department.
DFC had rented the hydrant meter attachment from the city for other purposes, but filling a pond is not an approved use, according to the rental agreement. DFC paid hydrant water rates for 889,100 gallons of water, which amounted to around $5,150 for the water, taxes and fees, City Attorney Toni Wheeler previously told the Journal-World.
The component Stewart allegedly removed from the hydrant attachment was a backflow device. The device prevents water from flowing backward, in this case from the pond, and contaminating the city water supply.
“The backflow preventer is critical in preventing contamination from entering the distribution system and causing potential illness to water customers,” Klamm said via email. “There is no acceptable reason to not use a back flow preventer.”
Because the backflow preventer was removed, the city had to test for contaminants and repair the hydrant attachment. Wheeler previously said those tests came back negative.
Stewart paid about $600 in victim restitution to the utilities department, according to the diversion agreement. The $600 covered on-site work by the utilities department, such as equipment costs, sampling, testing and reporting, according to City Prosecutor Elizabeth Hafoka.
Removal of a hydrant attachment’s backflow preventer is a violation of city code, punishable by a fine of up to $500 and/or imprisonment of up to 90 days. As part of his diversion, Stewart was fined $350 for the violation, according to Hafoka. In addition to the approximately $950 in fees and restitution, Stewart was charged about $60 in court costs, according to the diversion agreement.
Hafoka said the court costs, diversion fee and victim restitution, which total about $1,000, have been paid. In addition to that amount, the city was paid about $500 for the inspection and repair of the hydrant’s backflow preventer, according to Hafoka.
The diversion agreement states Stewart cannot violate any ordinance, statute or resolution during the one-year diversion term. If Stewart does not follow the terms of the diversion, the city will initiate prosecution for removal of the backflow preventer.
When asked about the outcome of the case, the city, via interim communications director Porter Arneill, stated via email that it believes “the issue is resolved.” Arneill did not comment further when asked whether the city feels it has been fairly compensated for all expenses related to the hydrant use.
Stewart’s attorney, Terrence Campbell, originally requested a trial in the case, though the trial was continued and the diversion agreement was approved instead. Calls to Campbell from the Journal-World have not been returned.