The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

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July 31, 2013

Benson: Inaccurate numbers used to judge fire protection

ENID, Okla. — While testing the pressure on several main water lines, the city of Enid has learned an important data set they use is outdated and inaccurate.

The data are key components in approving construction permits.

During a meeting last month, a city panel blocked construction of a mechanic’s bay on property owned by Roberts Ranch of Oklahoma. Fire Marshal Ken Helms, going off existing water flow records, had denied the permit because the nearest hydrant lacked enough pressure.

However, it appears that when those benchmark figures were tabulated, there were legitimate reasons for “low” water pressure.

Valve action

As of this week, the city has learned earlier pressure tests did not account for the use of valves, which are placed at intervals along water pipes. If the earlier survey showed water pressure too low, it may have been because a valve down the line was closed.

“Lo and behold — guess what? When the valves are operating correctly, we have more than adequate fire flow at that location,” City Manager Eric Benson said of the Roberts Ranch property. “So, he’s going to get his permit.”

The previous test numbers also likely were skewed by heavy water usage at the time, he said.

Business impact

Because they haven’t received official word about changes to their permit status, the Mortenson family, owners of Roberts Ranch, declined to comment for this story.

During the Construction Board of Adjustment and Appeals last month, Myrl Mortenson said the lack of water pressure in certain parts of the city could hurt business prospects. Benson said he recognized the issue could be detrimental.

“We have to be mindful of these requirements from commerce. We’ve got to give them the ability to expand here, and we can’t do it with some artificial hurdle that isn’t supported by facts. And that’s what we found ourselves doing. We were all very relieved, very pleased and very excited about the fact that we do have more water than we thought,” Benson said.

“This is job one of any municipality. If we don’t provide people the means to do their business here, there’s no way they will,” he said.

But even though a business wants to build in an underdeveloped area, there’s no guarantee the city will oblige, Benson said.

“If I want to build something there, what am I entitled to? Probably going to have to cost-share or show us that it’s in our financial interest to replace that infrastructure,” he said. “We can say no, or we can say let’s partner in this.”

The city only has access to preliminary data from the current expedition, and a detailed report is expected to be presented to Enid City Commission next week.

Water department workers and firefighters have been going out into the field, targeting hydrants and valves where there could be clarification about how much pressure is possible. Benson said to completely examine the city’s water infrastructure, though, would take months.

The city also will hire an employee whose sole job is to maintain and operate water line valves.

And while Benson now can claim Enid’s business image isn’t tarnished as suspected, he admits there probably are parts of the city incapable of supporting industrial or commercial development.

“There are those areas that don’t have as much water flow as they need,” he said. “We know where some of them are.”

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