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Answers ... Sort of ...

by Steve Lackmeyer Published: January 10, 2011

Marsha Slaughter, who heads up the city’s water/waste water division, has finally responded to questions about this sidewalk barricade. Sort of. She answered three of the questions left unanswered. So let’s get into the questions she answered first:

1. What is the risk of lowering the grate (an inch or so) so that it is flush with the sidewalk and doesn’t impede pedestrian traffic? Is it really a life or death situation if the grate is lowered?

A: It is a life or death situation. Our employees enter the vault and have to be able to safely maneuver heavy water meters and fittings safely while they are in the vault.

The box is about five inches tall on the downhill side. There is not a different thin lid that will create the same walk-ability concrete does on a slope. A metal plate, for example, is slippery when wet regardless of how nicely it’s finished and in this location would be slippery on a slope.

2. How big of a deal would it be to move the water meter if lowering the grate is unacceptable?

A: About $100,000 and a high annoyance factor during construction. The water line under the street’s pavement would have to be lowered, the pipe from the water line to the meter box dug up and lowered, the meter box would have to be rebuilt to be flush with the sidewalk, then the sidewalk would have to be reconstructed and the pavement patched because it would be torn out during the construction. It would always look patched.

3. Regardless of expense, would this sort of sidewalk impediment be accepted in front of a (prominent home)? Would you really tell them, “tough, it’s too expensive to move?”

Yes. Builders purchase and install the water meter according to our standards. Meters get installed in a consistent manner so they accurately and reliably measure the amount of water customers use, are safe for our employees to work in, and can be found to shut off when broken plumbing floods a building.

I understand the suggestion is the City reinstalls the meter box at our expense. It’s our ratepayers money and we use it carefully. The sidewalk is useable by all.

Marsha Slaughter,  Utilities Director

Now, for the questions she chose not to answer:

- Would it be acceptable to have a fenced grate in the middle of a street? If not, and if pedestrian access is now to be given equal (or better) footing with vehicular access, than why is this an acceptable sidewalk?

- What does this sort of sidewalk arrangement say about Oklahoma City’s engineering standards? What does it say about the Oklahoma City Water/Waste Water Utilities Department? What does it say about its responsibility to provide residents with sidewalks that are as safe and free of barriers as streets are for cars? Or are we back to treating pedestrian access as an afterthought to vehicular access?

I’ve also added a couple follow-up questions….

- Is this situation the result of a faulty design. If so, is the faulty design the result of the city’s actions, or the result of a contractor hired by the city, or the result of a contractor hired by the adjacent developer?
- Who decides whether this sidewalk was not worth fixing? The Water Trust? City Council? Or was it yourself, an assistant city manager or the city manager?
- Who decided whether lowering the grate by five inches would create an unsafe situation for water department employees?

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by Steve Lackmeyer
Business Reporter
Steve Lackmeyer is a reporter and columnist who started his career at The Oklahoman in 1990. Since then, he has won numerous awards for his coverage, which included the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, the city's Metropolitan...
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