No Solution for Frozen Water Pipes

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When the Tatro family lost water Feb. 7, they understood. After all, nearly everyone is calling the winter of 2013-2014 one of the coldest and most brutal in memory.

"We've had freezes before and we know it's just part of living in Michigan," said Dan Tatro, whose wife and son have been melting snow to flush toilets, going to the in-laws to shower and using the laundromat to wash their clothes.

But a Friday evening phone call from the City of Jackson pushed them over the edge. An automated voice told the Tatros that the city has yet to find a safe solution for thawing frozen pipes and will continue to search for potential solutions.

"Total letdown," said Dan and his wife Brenda as they described receiving the phone call. "Total letdown."

"I know this is happening all over," said Dan. "I know this is a widespread problem but even the city of Detroit, going into bankruptcy has the ability to thaw peoples' water pipes out in an emergency. This is an emergency."

He and his neighbors, at least six of whom are without water themselves, have had it with the city, they say. They think the city isn't taking good enough care of its citizens.

"We pay taxes, you keep your house in good shape, you shovel the sidewalk, you know, so where does ours end?" said Brenda. "Where does our obligation end?"

The obligation ends at the shut-off valve, says Mayor Jason Smith. From the main to the valve is the city's responsibility. The pipe running from the valve to the home is the resident's, he said.

"That's the homeowner's responsibility unfortunately, and there's not a whole lot we can do on our end," he said.

The city has helped out as a courtesy in the past, Smith said, but this winter is tougher than most.

"It's incredibly frustrating for us, as well as the homeowner obviously," said Smith. "We're back to the drawing board on how we can get these pipes thawed and keep them thawed."

Smith says the city has ordered equipment, hired contractors and even asked neighboring municipalities for help, but so far to no avail.

A new tool that sprays steam on the pipe to break down the ice has yet to be delivered, though it was expected to arrive last week. Money isn't a problem, Smith said -- the city has spent only 65-75 percent of its winter budget to date -- but ideas are. The few times the city has succeeded in thawing a pipe, the weather has frozen them again.

So Smith says the effort will stop, so as not to waste tax dollars on methods that don't work.

Jackson is offering free showers to people without water at its YMCA. The water department will also provide free water, as long as people bring containers.

The Tatros, who even tried renting a thawing machine to fix their pipes, say it's a nice gesture, but it's not enough.

"Show us that you're actually trying," said Brenda, "Because at this point, I don't think you are."

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