Ruth Merriweather said she wants the City of Lawton to either install new water mains so she can build her house in far southwest Lawton, or de-annex the area so she can return to the county.
City Council members want to discuss the issue and get cost estimates on the cost of a water main and a looped main before making a final decision on how to improve the water system on a 480-acre area south of Bishop Road and west of Southwest 67th Street.
The area was annexed into the city in 1982 and remains sparsely populated. At the time of annexation, residents obtained water through a private association that had an outside water sales contract with the City of Lawton. The association was disbanded and the water sales agreement was terminated in 2017. Residents continued to maintain a 6-inch main south of Bishop Road, an aging and deteriorating line that turns into 4 inches before its termination point.
Problems arose recently when several people, including Merriweather, sought new water meters for their houses. Merriweather’s application for a house she wanted to build was denied because an evaluation by the Lawton fire marshal indicates the 6-inch and 4-inch water mains do not have the required fire flow (meaning, an adequate flow of water to fight fires, unavailable because the mains are not large enough to provide the required pressure). That means properties cannot be safely served by Lawton Fire Department, city administrators said.
Merriweather said she already is working with a builder who was denied a water meter permit for the structure, adding she has $70,000 invested in her homebuilding project “and I can’t build.” Mayor Stan Booker said there are people who want to build in the area but can’t because of inadequate fire flow.
City staff outlined seven options the council could pursue to remedy the situation, but Deputy City Manager Richard Rogalski said there is no good option that would resolve all the problems because all seven “have drawbacks.” Options range from installing new mains, to providing an elevated tower or tankers, to de-annexing the area.
Public Utilities Director Rusty Whisenhunt said what is a 6-inch main should be 12 inches, based on what other developers in the area had to install. The projected cost is pricey: $528,000 for a mile of 12-inch main along Southwest 67th Street between Bishop and Coombs roads. Whisenhunt said that line would serve only residents within 300 feet of the main, and some existing structures are farther away.
The solution is an 8-inch line to loop through the area and connect back to the main line. Whisenhunt estimated that could cost at least $800,000.
That loop also would solve another problem. Whisenhunt said without an adequate number of properties pulling water from the main, water remains inside the line, losing its required chlorine load. When that happens, the water must be flushed so the line can be refilled with freshly treated water, something that would have to be done on a regular basis.
“It’s the only way to keep residual chlorine at (correct) levels,” Whisenhunt said, adding city officials know it would be necessary because there are only 10 users on the line now.
Council members wanted to know the cost of providing the looped line that would serve residents beyond the 300-foot mark while also eliminating the need to flush the line. Some members also debated the costs of solutions. Ward 4 Councilman Jay Burk said it is the city’s responsibility to put out fires, asking what would be the legal liability if inadequate flow prevented firefighters from doing that.
The solution now is calling in for assistance from other fire departments, fire officials said. Fire officials said there is another concern: having areas within the city limits without adequate fire flow could cost Lawton its Class 1 fire rating, the highest possible rating that gives residents the lowest insurance rates.
In the end, the council’s decision was directing city staff to bring back the full cost of a 12-inch main with an 8-inch loop, something Ward 8 Councilman Randy Warren said would allow development of the entire annexed section.