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Apartment company's efforts to trim water bills could be putting Jacksonville tenants in danger

11:44 PM, Dec 4, 2012   |    comments
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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The JEA believes that what one apartment complex is doing could be putting the lives of its residents at risk.

JEA is investigating Hunter's Ridge apartments and 11 other Mid-America Properties apartments in Jacksonville for water meter tampering, according to spokesperson Gerri Boyce.

"This is the first I heard about it and really, honestly, I shouldn't be hearing from you the news. I should be hearing from my apartment," said Gretchen Copeland, a resident of Hunter's Ridge apartments.

"The technician who went out there realized there was something wrong with the way the meter was performing, he had to dismantle the meter and that's when he found out it had been tampered with," said JEA spokesperson Gerri Boyce.

The complex's water meter vault seal had been removed and a device called a Precision Flow installed, according to Boyce, an action she said required a permit.

However, Boyce told First Coast News they could not find any permits on record.

"You are not allowed to go into our system without our permission and knowledge," Boyce said.

JEA is now investigating the 12 Jacksonville MAA properties and has alerted Code Enforcement and the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department, according to Boyce.

First Coast News contacted MAA. Senior Vice President James Maclin told First Coast News in a statement: "JEA has raised some questions and concerns about some work that one of MAA's contractor's performed. We are currently partnering with JEA to answer and resolve those questions and concerns."

According to the Precision Flow website, the device creates a more accurate measurement of the water that is actually being consumed.

More information about the device was not available on the Precision Flow website.

Maclin said there is some debate over whether the device affects water flow.

But Boyce said based on their testing, the Precision Flow device does reduce water pressure, something JEA said can be a safety issue in the case of a fire.

Measurements First Coast News received from JEA show at one property, a 6-inch fire meter showed a 77.5 percent volume reduction with the device -- 740 gallons per minute.

JFRD spokesperson Tom Francis said life safety code regulations require at least 1,500 gallons per minute and said JFRD will be inspecting the properties tomorrow.

"Nobody wants to have a fire where the sprinkler just has a little drip. That's obviously the number one safety issue here for the residents and the firefighters should they have to respond to an emergency in that particular property," Francis said.

"We saw they were working on the water over here but we weren't told anything else except boil your water," said Hunter's Ridge resident Justin Copeland.

Signs at Hunter's Ridge alert residents the boil water advisory issued by JEA when the device was removed has ended.

Boyce said any time water is exposed, JEA issues a boil water advisory and also flushes the lines and performs a bacterial test and two days of sampling.

However, because JEA was not alerted when the device was installed, the safety procedures were not performed, according to Boyce.

Maclin told First Coast News they did not alert JEA when the devices were installed because they thought the work was on their private property. He added the company will continue to work with JEA to find a resolution.

First Coast News

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