Salisbury To Seek Agreement In Case Of Water Service Problems

SALISBURY — With recent emergencies like Hurricane Sandy grabbing attention, Salisbury Public Works Director Teresa Gardner briefed the council this week on a proposed Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Department of Emergency Services to provide water services to areas of Wicomico County during “catastrophic” events.

According to Gardner, one of the biggest issues following an emergency situation is providing water services to all residents. Should water be disrupted in Wicomico, Gardner explained that the understanding with the Department of Emergency Services would allow Salisbury to reach out beyond city limits to help provide water services to the county at large.

Gardner stressed that the MoU would only establish a policy and present an option. It wouldn’t make any action mandatory.

“We had to have the right to say no … that language is in here,” she told the council.

The council had some questions about what exactly constituted a “catastrophe.” Councilwoman Laura Mitchell asked if recent problems with groundwater contamination in some areas would be enough to kick the MoU into effect.

“I’m not sure if they would turn to the EOC (Emergency Operations Center) for that,” said Gardner.

Whatever the catastrophe that actually requires the city to provide water service, Gardner explained that costs would be low since the EOC would be responsible for pretty much everything except the actual water.

“The EOC would provide the transport mechanism and they would provide staffing for it,” she said.

Mitchell asked that the point be made completely ironclad in the MoU.

“It needs to be clear that they’re doing the staffing,” she said. “We’re just doing the oversight.”

The distinction is important, said Council President Terry Cohen, because Salisbury wouldn’t receive reimbursement if the city provides water services unless the action is part of a larger state of emergency event. Gardner confirmed that was correct.

One issue that Cohen did have with the plan is how approval is run through the city. The MoU only contained a vague clause pertaining to “approval by the City of Salisbury.” As an administrative function, Gardner explained that approval would probably start with a recommendation from her office to the mayor’s. Cohen said that was fine, but leaving it dependent on city approval seemed to imply that the legislative branch of government could or should be involved.

Mitchell pointed out that needing everyone’s approval during a catastrophe event risked clogging the works. That scenario could easily happen by putting too many proverbial cooks in the kitchen, agreed Cohen, which is why she suggested making it clear that approval would be needed from the mayor’s office only.

“I think that would be wiser wording than ‘City of Salisbury,’” reasoned City Attorney Mark Tilghman.

The MoU is expected to move to a legislative session for further discussion and possible approval this month.