A recent special meeting of the Fredonia Village Board once again did not address recent water problems residents endured under a boil order between Nov. 28 and Dec. 3 as a result of problems at the filtration plant.
After Friday's meeting, Mayor Stephen Keefe was asked about operations at the water filtration plant.
It was explained to Keefe rumors circulated about chemicals running out at the plant, suggesting operator error was behind the failure, not equipment. In response to the question, Keefe produced a letter from the Chautauqua County Health Department. He said the letter credited Chief Operator Rob Lancaster for "consistently operating the water treatment plant diligently and in a manner that has produced drinking water that meets or exceeds federal standards. Additionally, his prompt and thorough actions throughout the boil water order helped to return the water treatment plant to normal operation producing water that was in compliance with NYSDOH standards."
OBSERVER Photo by Shirley Pulawski
After a special meeting Friday, Fredonia Mayor Stephen Keefe (right) provided a partial copy of a letter sent by the Chautauqua County Department of Health regarding the recent boil order and compliance issues. He did not provide the entire letter, he said, because he had not yet provided copies of it to trustees, including Janel Subjack (left) who was present at the meeting.
Keefe presented the letter from the health department as proof of no malfeasance by Lancaster, and was then asked by the OBSERVER to provide a copy of the correspondence from the health department to the OBSERVER, but Keefe refused.
After being pressed, Keefe made copies of the first two pages of what appeared to be a six- to eight-page letter. The first page included the praise Lancaster; the second contained details regarding the problems which led to the boil order and the beginning of a list of recommendations for changes to the system.
Keefe said the remaining pages related to storage of water the village would have to consider, and he had not yet presented the letter to the rest of the board members and did not want to share the correspondence until he did.
"I don't want them to read about it in the paper when we haven't had a chance to discuss it," he said. However, the letter, which was received Dec. 20, was not provided to the members present at Friday's special board meeting. Correspondence was not listed on the agenda, and is usually made available to the press as part of public records.
When asked if the OBSERVER would have to obtain the letter by filing through the Freedom of Information legislation, he said, "If you want to FOIL for it, you can," before deciding to provide copies of only the first two pages of the letter.
On the second page, the letter stated among other items, "The Village of Fredonia remains in violation of the State Sanitary Code for having an inadequate volume of water storage. The recent boil water event underscores how this situation can directly impact public health. This issue has been identified on several previous sanitary surveys, but the village has made no progress in addressing this issue beyond a 2011 report indicating that additional storage may not be needed. The village is required to submit a detailed plan for addressing this issue, including milestone dates for the submittal of design plans and the construction of needed improvements."
The letter also stated the inadequate storage amount compounded the problem at the end of November because a lack of storage prevented the plant from stopping water production. The letter explained, in technical terms, stopping production and using stored water could have prevented the boil order.
Trustees Joseph Cerrie and Janel Subjack, who were present at the time, did not comment on filtration plant questions. Trustee Mark Ruckman, also present at the time of questioning, said he was not aware of a letter from the health department. "It's the first I've heard about any letter," he said.
Keefe was asked by the OBSERVER who would be running the water filtration plant with Lancaster's retirement scheduled for Saturday, Dec. 29. Lancaster has worked at the plant for 35 years, and his resignation was announced at the time an unexpected purchase of 2.5 million gallons of water from the city of Dunkirk totaling $99,000 was also announced.
Keefe said "Rob is running the plant," and confirmed his retirement date as Dec. 29. He said a replacement has been found and the name of the replacement would be announced at the next meeting.
After a meeting on Dec. 6, Keefe told the OBSERVER there were no applications for review to replace Lancaster's position at that time. He also said the board wants to "get someone in right away and get them trained," while Lancaster remains on the job, "so we have a good transition." At that time, he also said the implementation of a plan to prevent another water treatment failure would "be at the top of the priorities" for the new plant operator.
The announcement of a replacement will take place at a special meeting Jan. 7, according to Keefe on Friday. It was not made clear how the plant would be run or by whom between the period of now through Jan 7.
The Jan. 7 meeting was scheduled to hold a public hearing to switch elections for mayor and trustees in the village to November instead of March.
Meetings for the village are typically scheduled on the second and fourth Mondays. Recently, some special meetings set for off-schedule days have resulted in cancellation of regularly scheduled meetings, including a regular meeting on Dec. 10 which was canceled after a special meeting was called on Thursday, Dec. 6 at noon. Issues at the water filtration plant were not discussed at that meeting, either.
The letter from the health department said the correspondence was a result of a survey conducted "to determine the water system's compliance with Part 5 of the New York State Sanitary Code, but to also conduct a follow-up assessment of the water system subsequent to the recent boil order."
Among other items on the two pages provided, it said the chemical feed system which failed must have a means to monitor flow and an alarm installed by March 31 or provide an operator on duty at the plant whenever water is being produced.
It also stated, "Strong consideration should be given to providing an automatic switch over system" to the chemical feed system, and a standby pump should be considered.
The letter also said a monitoring system for material settled in filter beds was not being utilized. The recommendation was to monitor settled turbidities electronically and connected to an alarm system.
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