Water system manager Judy Greinke, Herron Island manager Claudia Ellsworth and Mario Villanueva, the USDA state director of the Rural Development Division, cut the ribbon during the recent Herron Island community ceremony celebrating the completion of their new water system. The island’s community center was filled with island residents and numerous off-island participants in the project. Photo by Ed Johnson, KP News

On Feb. 9, residents of Herron Island celebrated the completion of a new water system.

The new system, which cost an estimated $1.8 million, replaced an old, leaky system that had been in use since 1958, according to island manager Claudia Ellsworth.

Funds for the new system came from loan through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development Program.

“We’ve been trying to replace the old system for more than 20 years,” Ellsworth said. “We knew it would be expensive, but we were in a very favorable bidding climate.”

They also got a very low interest rate on the loan –– 2.5 percent.

There are approximately 400 homes on the island that connect to the system, including about 135 year-round residents. The entire island is a homeowners’ association, Ellsworth said. The members own their land and their homes, but the association, called HMC, owns the water system and the ferry.

The island has two good-quality wells that are more than 200-feet deep, she added.

Association members –– the actual water users –– will pay for the new system over a period of 40 years. “By 2017, the entire system will be metered,” Ellsworth said.

One of the biggest benefits of the new system is the increase in fire hydrants. Prior to the upgrade, there were just three fire hydrants on the entire island, which is 1.5 miles long and approximately half-a-mile wide.

“It’s absolutely amazing the increase in protection the island now has,” said Tom Lique, chief of the Key Peninsula Fire Department. “When the island annexed into the fire district in 1984, there were only three hydrants. Now there are 41.”

That will make a huge difference in the fire department’s ability to respond to fires. “Now, with the way our engines are set up, we can probably use just one engine because many of the hydrants will be within 1,000 feet of each other,” Lique said.

In the past, fire trucks often had to dump their water loads before they could board the ferry to the island. That meant that, once they got to the island, they had to find a hydrant to reload from.

The fire department lists the ferry “as one of our response units” Lique said. “If somebody calls us, they (ferry personnel) receive a page just like our own crews do. They tell us whether we can go directly to the dock, or if we have to wait for them to clear out all the cars to make way for our trucks.”

The boost in fire protection may also translate into insurance savings for islanders, Ellsworth noted. “Of course, it depends on who your insurance company is, but fire is the island’s biggest hazard, and the new water system makes fire protection and suppression much, much easier,” she said.

In the long run, Lique said, “We hope we’ll never have to use the island’s new water system, but if we do, it will be a great help to us in putting out a fire quickly and hopefully saving the home.”

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