CORNELIUS – Even as Charlotte-Mecklenburg Utilities tries to rebuild its reputation for accurate bills, the utility and the county’s 311-communication center continue to take hits – about their ability to communicate.
When Cornelius officials held a recent town hall meeting to hear residents’ concerns, Gary Knight couldn’t help but lament a recent water main break in his neighborhood off Bethel Church Road. Knight, who serves on the town’s parks commission and land development code committee, said he and his neighbors watched for eight hours as thousands of gallons of water spilled into the storm drains on Middletown Road.
After 3 p.m. on Wednesday, April 13, Knight, homeowner Dan Moquin and their landscaper called 311 multiple times asking for a repair crew, but the crew did not arrive for about eight hours.
And when they arrived, members of the crew told Moquin and Knight they had not been busy all day, that they did not learn of the break until about 10:30 p.m. when they were about to go home.
“I have to say that once they got there, the crew was excellent. They worked through the night and did a fantastic job,” Knight told town board members, “but it was horrible to watch all this water going down the drain.”
Utility spokeswoman Karen Whichard confirmed that 311 received the first calls between 3 and 3:30. A utility employee arrived at Middletown Road at 9 p.m. and confirmed the “priority 1 break,” and the repair crew, with backhoes and lighting equipment, arrived around 11 p.m. They reported the repair completed at 6 a.m.
Though the system is “not perfect,” Whichard said utility employees got to the leak “well within our parameters.” Standard procedure calls for the utility to make an investigation of any reported pipe break within eight hours, she said.
To consolidate customer services, the utility has transferred almost all of its customer service personnel to 311 in recent years, Whichard said. She could not speak to when 311 alerted repair crews to the break or what the repair crews’ work schedule was that day. Utility officials also have asked Charlotte City Council for money to hire more repair crews, which they say are stretched, causing long delays in repairs.
Moquin was in Atlanta, where he works for Coca Cola, when Knight called to tell him water was gushing out of his driveway. Moquin managed to drive back from Atlanta and arrive hours before the repair crew.
When Moquin first called 311, the operator said “they were getting ready for a shift change and it would be at least 45 minutes before anybody got there,” he said. He called again at 5:30 p.m., and “they told me they were taking care of it. They were talking to the crew.”
But when the repair crew arrived 5 1/2 hours later, “they told me they didn’t have any calls, they were hanging out before they got the call” just before they were preparing to go home.
Meanwhile, so much water was pouring from the break that it rushed over the closest two drains and reached a third drain down the street, Moquin said.