Falls Church officials, along with designers and builders of the Chain Bridge Road water pumping station, have announced plans to study problems at the station, following reports that the city was considering suing the firms that designed and built the problem-ridden facility.
Despite the planned study, expected to begin within the next few weeks, Falls Church City Attorney Paul Terence O'Grady said legal action against the designers, manufacturers or builders of the $1.5 million facility is still "a very real possibility."
"One of our hesitations is that we want the pump to work but we don't really want to sue the people who are trying to get the pump to work," said O'Grady. "But someplace you have to draw the line."
The pumping station, opened in 1978, is one of six Falls Church water facilities serving about 100,000 residents in Falls Church and parts of Fairfax County and Vienna. The Chain Bridge facility serves residents primarily in the McLean area. Since it opened, city officials say, the station has been plagued with problems, ranging from water main breaks to lowered water pressure.
At a recent meeting of Falls Church and Fairfax County officials, Fairfax Supervisor Nancy K. Falck (R-Dranesville) complained that her constituents in the McLean area had suffered continuing water problems because of malfunctions at the station, and urged Falls Church officials to take steps to remedy the problems.
"In my district we have had two major water line breaks within the past few months," Falck said in an interview last week. Falck added that she hears regular complaints about water pressure problems in the McLean area.
"Water is absolutely essential and whoever provides it should make sure that there is a sufficient supply of clean water with appropriate pressure," said Falck, who added that she plans to continue to meet with Falls Church officials until the problems "are cleaned up."
"As a member of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, if we paid for a several million dollar pump that didn't work in 1977, I think we would have already taken some steps to make this pump operable," she said.
Joseph Livinski, assistant director of public utilities for Falls Church, said he is optimistic that mechanical problems at the station can resolved, although he conceded that the complex system "had an inordinate number of bugs from the start.
"The pressure problems are in a very isolated portion of the system," said Livinski. "The lower pressure problems affect only those residents living at extremely high elevations." Livinski estimated that fewer than 100 customers are regularly plagued with pressure problems because of malfunctions at the Chain Bridge station.
Officials from the engineering and architectural firm that designed the station, Wiley and Wilson Inc. of Lynchburg, and experts from suppliers of the major control component of the system, Flo-matcher Corp, are expected to reexamine the facility within the next few weeks and report to the city.
Garland Page, a senior vice president at Wiley and Wilson, said he is confident the problems can be cleared up, but termed the situation "a can of worms."
"When you have something as complicated as this station, you have everyone trying to put the blame on somebody else," Page said this week. "We want the parties involved to cooperate rather than be thinking suit.
"I think everyone concerned wants the station to work but everyone has a financial interest they want to defend, too. We just need to create the atmosphere to solve the problem and I am certain it can."