Clinton missed a key deadline Thursday to resolve problems with its troubled water system and the town could soon face daily fines of up to $847.
The Louisiana Department of Health had set a "drop dead" mark for Thursday. When the deadline came and went, the agency issued an administrative order threatening the fines because town officials cannot prove they've corrected 16 water system deficiencies.
The trouble includes inadequate chlorine residuals in the water system; record-keeping issues; the lack of a certified water operator; leaks; a sinkhole near its Taylor Street well; and the strong odor of chlorine gas near the Pine Ridge Street well.
Full compliance could still be as far away as summer, however.
The order staggers deadlines for the deficiencies’ remediation completion dates, ranging from 30 days down the road to seven months from now.
The first 30-day deadline requires infrastructure improvements, including chlorination equipment sampling and maintenance; submitting a written plan or ordinance ensuring the town is protected against backflow contamination; and employing a certified operator, among other requirements.
Within 90 days, the town must have a professional engineer assess the site to determine further repairs needed, and submit the evaluation to the state.
By July, the Taylor Street well needs to operate as listed under its permit. The last deadline is Aug. 10, by which the town needs to have submitted final documentation showing it has adhered to the components and timeline of the order.
Health officials have sought the repairs since September, when they sent Mayor Lori Ann Bell a letter outlining problems identified during an inspection conducted a month earlier.
Bell was arrested this month on the accusation she mishandled that information. The town Board of Aldermen has said she did not alert anyone that the September letter carried a 90-day deadline to fix the problems the Department of Health identified.
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The administrative order document names Bell and each board member: Johnny Beauchamp, Mary Dunaway, Mark Kemp, Darren Matthews and Kim Young. Further, town clerk Anjanetha Shropshire and maintenance superintendent Daryl Harrell are also named in the state complaint.
Town officials did not respond to a request for comment Thursday. Bell's attorney, Niles Haymer, said in an email that the town intends to comply with the order to fix the water system.
He said the town is conducting work on the wells to bring them up to standard.
Beauchamp did not know about the administrative order when called Thursday afternoon, but he said the whole thing had been “blown out of proportion.” Dunaway and Kemp did not respond to calls seeking comment; Matthews could not be reached.
When Young answered the phone, someone in the background shouted, "Don't answer any questions!" She said she would not comment.
Beauchamp said, to his knowledge, both the Taylor Street well and the Pine Ridge Street well are in working order despite the state's documents stating the Pine Ridge well is the only one serving about 2,500 people.
“I’ve been drinking this water 73 years now, and it ain’t hurt me or killed me,” he said.
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Asked whether he was concerned about the state’s order, in particular the possibility of an $847 daily fine, he said he wasn’t.
“They can fine whoever they want, but we can’t pay it,” he said. “We don’t even have enough money to pay the people. We’ve got in a bad way.”
The water system isn't the town's only problem.
Clinton is working without a 2019 budget. The board met Dec. 11 to address Bell’s proposed document, but the board chose to take no action, saying it was an incomplete document.
The town did not publish a public notice in time to discuss the budget at the next regular meeting, Jan. 8, but is scheduled to meet on the budget Jan. 29. Until there’s a budget, state law says the town cannot exceed 50 percent of its previous year’s expenditures.
The town’s water operator, Jeff Johnson, also resigned effective on Jan. 3.
Clinton business owner Jennifer Templet said the residents are frustrated with the water issues. She said though she and others she's spoken with understand the state has a process to follow, they're anxious to have authorities intervene in the town's management to get the water system up to par.
A Clinton resident troubled by his town's financial and water problems claims to have collected nearly 65 percent of the signatures necessary …