The executive session was called, according to city attorney Mike O’Brien, to discuss pending litigation stemming from the city’s failure to comply with a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency consent order, as well as possible discussion of safety and essential infrastructure.
Council President Horace Patterson said the discussion might also cross over into matters of good name and character, but O’Brien pointed out that the good name and character exception cannot be applied to appointed board members, employees who are required to file financial disclosure documents and other exceptions, and that good name and character does not cover job performance.
Once the council reconvened, each of the councilman was asked by Patterson to read some of their concerns into the record. Councilman Eddie Tucker spoke first, regarding the most recent problem at the department.
At some point Thursday, the surface treatment plant ran out of alum, a substance used in the filtering process.
“The department had to shut down,” Tucker said. “When you don’t have it, you can’t make water. And that reduces your fire protection, and your water quality and your pressure. But lives could be at stake. We’ve just got poor management. People need it for their homes, to drink, and to take baths and stuff. And we almost didn’t get the alum, they had to divert it from someplace else. People need clean, (potable) water.”
Councilman Jimmy Davis then mentioned several safety problems that were pointed out to him during a tour of the surface water treatment facility in October. None of these issues appear to have been remedied, he said.
These include a non-functional eye-wash station, a broken valve in one of the settling basins that prohibits the plant from using half if its filtering capacity (the valve was first reported broken in February), three separate oil leaks directly over the drinking water supply, potential fluoride leaks and a decaying “out of service” bag over a fire hydrant in Brecon.
Councilman Donnie Miller focused more specifically on the EPA consent order, including failure to address inflow and infiltration issues that cause sanitary sewer overflows and failure to conduct and document preventative maintenance on the water plants and system, according to the document he was reading from.
“The lengthy and involved effort to complete the required EPA Annual Reports due for 2008 or 2009, which the council received copies of on Aug. 28 and Sept. 21, 2009 made clear certain deficiencies which need to be addressed in order to be in compliance,” Miller read.
Miller also addressed a lack of successor management positions.
“There is an obvious absence of planning, foresight and motivation to address the improvements concerning issues of inflow and infiltration and sanitary sewer overflows,” Miller continued. “The failure by the department to properly budget to allow sufficient efforts to be made toward the completion of these isssues is evident from the 2009-10 budget submittal where inflow and infiltration was actually decreased by 50 percent from the previous year.”
Since the estimated cost to establish an appropriate rate structure is estimated at $40,000. “The council adopted an 8 percent rate increase for 2009-10, it is estimated that subsequent similar rate increases will be necessary annually over the next decade in order to complete thorough system rehabilitation.”
The city has also failed to implement a fats, oil and grease ordinance, the Shocco lift station has been broken since January 2008, and the Stone Hill booster station, broken since January of this year, has not been repaired.
Mayor Brian York said he felt the overall situation was “appalling…This needs to be taken care of immediately.”
Tucker said he was “appalled,” and “horrifying, in a sense…Even the clean water looked dirty. That’s why they give us bottled water up here…We need to do something immediately, we need drastic action…”
Davis added, “nothing has changed, and changes have to be made to give the community confidence.”
Patterson said he wanted to “ask the community to refrain from panic. We will deal with this, and we are dealing with this. We were not aware that we were not EPA compliant.”
Miller agreed that he knew there were problems but “didn’t know we were not in compliance.”
Tucker said, “I knew there were problems with the infrastructure, with water backing up into people’s houses and sewage coming up on Ave. H. The citizens and the council report these things, and I thought they were getting to the EPA.”
Patterson then asked Stampfler to bring “a proposal or proposals to remedy these problems to the next council meeting. Also, I want us to work with the manager to set aside a date or dates to explain this to the whole community, preferably at the Ritz Theater.”
O’Brien pointed out that the stakes were particularly high for the city, in that they could end up being ineligible for any federal funds for several years.
“We need sweeping changes to the way we do business,” Tucker said.
Stampfler said “We are mostly dealing with above ground problems, but we’ve got serious below ground problems also, and those will take time and be expensive. This system has a long history of neglect. And the changes will be sweeping, since I can’t conceive of business as usual getting us the results we need. And there is no circumstance where the public’s immediate health is endangered, but there is a huge potential for danger, and that has to be headed off as rapidly as possible.”
Patterson replied “We are determined, we will be compliant, resilient and we will remedy these problems that we were not fully aware of. We will be tenacious until this is turned around. The status quo will not prevail.”
The next council meeting is Monday, Dec. 7 starting at 5 p.m.