CLINTON — The mayor and Board of Aldermen took the first steps Thursday to avoid paying hefty state fines for noncompliance with the state health code, hiring a Zachary firm specializing in water treatment to essentially operate its water system for the foreseeable future.

The contract with Thornton Musso & Bellemin will cost the town $7,000 per month, Mayor Lori Ann Bell said, but she said the state's threatened fines of $847 per day for failing to correct water system deficiencies would soon cost as much.

The amount of the fine appears to be based on the number of customers served by the town, which the order says is 847.

Clinton faces $847 daily fine after 'drop dead' mark passes without water system corrections

Lee Thornton, a principal in the firm, said he or another of his firm's state-certified water system operators will be in Clinton each day to bring the system into compliance.

The state Office of Public Health issued a Jan. 17 administrative order setting staggered deadlines to correct problems with the town's system.

The deadline for correcting seven of the 16 cited deficiencies is Feb. 17.

Bell said the board's action to hire Thornton's firm and introduce an ordinance requiring certain customers to install equipment to prevent backflow contamination of the water supply will enable the town to meet the first deadline.

State Police and the East Feliciana Parish Sheriff's Office arrested Bell earlier in January on the accusation that she failed to act on state health officials' September complaints about the system.

Clinton mayor arrested for 3rd time, now over town's water; her attorney denies any crime

Thornton said he will make sure the water system has the proper amount of chlorine added to the water, as outlined in the state's first remedial action order, as well as take steps within four hours to add additional chlorine if the amount in the system falls below the residual levels set by the state.

The second item requires the town to maintain records of its chlorination program for 10 years and to provide monthly copies to the Office of Public Health, which Thornton said his firm will do.

One of the violations noted in the state inspection was the failure to maintain 10 years of records of bacteriological sampling, but Bell said town employees recently found records going back to 2007. She asked Thornton to inspect them before they are submitted to the state.

The board should be in position to adopt the backflow prevention ordinance at its Feb. 19 meeting, provided the Office of Public Health approves a suggested ordinance obtained from a state rural water association.

Meanwhile, town employee Ursula Shaw said she is contacting the 15 or 20 businesses that may be required to install backflow prevention devices, to inform them of the coming requirement.

Bell said the relocation of a sampling tap at the Taylor Street well and installing a watertight seal around electrical wiring and other components at the Pine Ridge Road well will be completed ahead of the deadline.

As part of his duties, Thornton said, he will maintain a computer spreadsheet of customer complaints, including their resolution, as required by the state. Bell said she has drawn up a form for employees to use when they receive a complaint.

Bell also said employees of a well-drilling company will be at the Taylor Street well Monday to inspect it and make recommendations for repairing it.

Thornton said the well is pumping sand and needs attention.