It was, Councilor Maureen Feeney recalls, complete pandemonium: Last summer, somebody opened five hydrants in the area around Norton and Bowdoin streets and the area became an instant disaster zone: Basements were flooded, backyards washed out, cars damaged and some little kids were sent tumbling down the hill because of the force of the water. Thank God a fire didn't break out in the area at the time, she says.
Never again, Feeney and fellow Dorchester Councilor Charles Yancey vowed today. Although the Boston Water and Sewer Commission is installing supposedly more tamper-proof locks on the hydrants in the area - and buying special wrenches for firefighters to use to open them - the two councilors said at a hearing today they want fines and even possible jail time as cudgels to go after kids who open hydrants during the dog days of summer.
There's just one problem: The Boston Water and Sewer Commission owns the hydrants and says it is completely independent of city government and police have no authority over its hydrants, not even to arrest or fine people who open them illegally. Only commission employees can legally go after vandals, commission attorney Bonnie Gottschalk told the two councilors.
Feeney asked if the commission had ever actually gone after an individual for opening a hydrant. Gottschalk acknowledged it had not - by the time any BWSC workers in the field report a problem to commission headquarters, the miscreant is long gone, she said.
Still, BWSC officials vowed to work with the city to figure out an answer - likely in the form of a "special order" under which the commission would authorize Boston Police to do something about hydrant openers. The commission and BPD came to a similar understanding in 1990 to let police go after people dumping used motor oil in catch basins.
"Let's get this thing resolved," Tom Bagley, deputy director of communications for the commission, said. "Whatever we can do, we'll do it. ... These people cannot go through another summer like that."
Feeney proposed $300 fines and a possible one-year jail sentence. BPD Superintendent William Evans said his officers would be more likely to try to convince kids - through their parents - to stop opening hydrants than to arrest them, but that it would be good to have more severe punishments available just in case.