The Rocking Horse Bakery in Winthrop is back in business after being closed for nearly a month because it lost water service during the brutally cold days of late December.
But the building’s owners still have questions for the Town of Winthrop about the town’s responsibility for providing water to the bakery.
The bakery was closed throughout the winter holiday season, since it was discovered on Dec. 20 that they had no water despite taking cold-weather precautions, and were subsequently told that the town’s options for restoring service were limited.
“The Town of Winthrop Water Mains have running water and are working properly. Individual feeder lines from water mains to homes and businesses are considered private property. These are the responsibility of property owners to maintain,” Ranzau said in an official statement.
At last week’s Town Council meeting, Mark Westerfield — who with his wife, Carolyn Mistell, owns the bakery building on Riverside Avenue — asked for additional information about a Winthrop municipal code provision that doesn’t require the town to provide water past lateral hookups from the water main.
The bakery reopened last week after service was restored from the main to the building thanks to efforts by Palm Construction. But at the time of Wednesday’s council meeting, that work was still underway.
Westerfield said he has been researching, with the help of an attorney, the background of Winthrop’s water service ordinance, which dates back to 1993 — well before anyone on the current council was involved in town operations.
He said representatives of the Small Business Administration (SBA), which provided a loan when the Westerfield family purchased the baker from Steve and Teresa Mitchell in January 2020, told him recently that the loan would not have been offered had the SBA known about the ordinance disclaiming town responsibility for laterals from the main.
“We would not have been able to buy it,” Westerfield said.
In an effort to find out “how we arrived at this policy,” Westerfield said, has asked for documentation about the ordinance. “How did Winthrop come to a decision not to take responsibility for main to service?” he posed.
He said Winthrop is the only place he’s lived where the town disclaimed responsibility for lateral lines, and that his research has not turned up other examples.
He also noted the excavation work for repairs revealed that more-recent water mains were installed on top of old wooden water mains. “There’s no separation,” he said. “They’re in the same hole.”
Westerfield said he’s not sure yet how much the repair and closure costs (including lost revenue) will be covered by insurance, and asked the town for “some consideration for our expense.”
Westerfield urged that the town pursue federal infrastructure grants to make necessary updates to the water system.
Mayor Sally Ranzau noted that in 2017, when cold weather caused more than two dozen frozen pipe problems and breakages at in the town, affected customers were exempted from water and sewer charges. She said that would be the case this time as well.
“All we can do is try to mitigate” impacts on the bakery building, which also houses the Lariat Coffee Roasters retail outlet, the mayor said.
In the town’s defense, Ranzau said the SBA could have found the water main provisions in the town’s ordinances during the earlier loan approval process. “The answers are all there in the municipal code,” she said.
The mayor added the town is seeking federal infrastructure grant to replace an aged water main that runs under the Methow River bridge and serves downtown Winthrop.
Council members also expressed sympathy for the Westerfield’s water problems, but were cautious about offering any other response. “We need more information,” council member Ben Nelson said.
“We’re not wanting to not help you,” council member Joseph O’Driscoll said.
Council member Seth Miles, who owns Three Fingered Jack’s Saloon on Riverside Avenue, empathized with the Westerfields. “It could happen to any one of us,” he said.
“We all missed you when you were closed,” Ranzau said.
Westerfield said he and his wife no longer live in the valley, having sold the bakery business to their son Christopher last year, but said that “we’re still vested here.”