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Chalkboard

Chalkboard art at Pizzeria Tra Vigne in St. Helena. 

A St. Helena restaurant is hoping to catch a break from the city after suffering a $20,000 water leak.

The city sent Pizzeria Tra Vigne notice of a potential leak on Oct. 16, three weeks after it had started. The next day the restaurant called in the plumbers and received a $12,000 water/sewer bill.

Nash Cognetti, the restaurant’s vice president, said he immediately got to work trying to find the leak, which mystified plumbers until Oct. 26, when they finally traced it to a faulty drain primer hidden inside an exterior concrete wall. The primer, located above a bathroom the restaurant shares with the Southbridge Napa Valley hotel, was causing clean water to flow directly into the sewer. The plumbers were able to stop the leak as soon as they found it.

The restaurant paid $25,000 in water and sewer charges over two billing cycles, which was about $20,000 higher than normal. On Tuesday, Cognetti asked the council to refund the excess charges, since the restaurant had worked diligently to find and stop the leak as soon as it was discovered.

“We don’t have the cash reserves to weather this sort of thing, especially going into January and February,” Cognetti told the council. “Not to paint a grim picture here in front of you, but we’re talking about potentially losing a restaurant in your city here.”

The city has a program that offers partial relief to residential customers who experience water leaks, but unlike neighboring jurisdictions, St. Helena doesn’t offer a similar program to commercial customers.

Councilmembers sympathized with the restaurant’s situation, with Councilmember Anna Chouteau saying it was important to keep such a “family-friendly and affordable” restaurant in the city.

However, they agreed that the city should first create a leak adjustment policy for commercial customers, and then apply the new policy retroactively to Pizzeria Tra Vigne, potentially allowing the restaurant to recover some or all of the excess charges.

City Manager Mark Prestwich said he should be able to come back to the council with such a program within the next two council meetings. The city will consider the $20,000 a credit on the restaurant’s account until everything is sorted out.

The council also told staff to investigate leak detection technology that would help the city warn customers more promptly of potential leaks.

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St. Helena Reporter

Jesse has been a reporter for the St. Helena Star since 2006.