KIRAN: Clinton’s water operator resigns as second deadline to fix deficiencies approaches

Overseer of Clinton water department resigns amid issues

CLINTON, LA (WAFB) - Just one day after a 9News investigation into Clinton’s water system in East Feliciana Parish, the man in charge of overseeing the department has called it quits, according to his resignation letter.

Clinton’s mayor has also been ordered to alert everyone in that town about the truth of what’s really happening with the water.

“I have not heard anything from the Town of Clinton,” said Stephen Russo, the lawyer for the Louisiana Department of Health (LDH).

Russo is representing the state when it comes to Clinton’s water and the town’s mayor, Lori Bell. It all started in September of 2018 when the state sent a certified letter with a list of 22 deficiencies, 15 of those considered “significant” when it comes to providing safe, drinking water for Clinton.

Mayor Bell had 90 days to respond with what was fixed, but the state says the mayor failed to do that. “They didn’t respond and then we went out and did another investigation. We found continuing non-compliance with the deficiencies,” said Russo.

The state then sent another certified letter in mid-December of 2018.

“The Town of Clinton now has 30 days from Dec. 17, which will be Jan. 17, to show us that they have corrected the deficiencies to our satisfaction,” said Russo.

Also included in that letter is an order from the state saying the mayor had to print in their local newspaper a notice to all customers, updating them on the water system. The required printout was nearly a page long, saying things like, “As our customers, you have a right to know what happened...”, “...we were required to correct the deficiencies...”, and “However... we failed to correct the deficiencies or contact the state before the established deadline...”

The mayor has until Jan. 17 to comply with the order. So far though, Russo and the state say they have not heard anything from the mayor and that nothing has been printed in Clinton’s local paper because they require a copy of the printout. “Basically, it is a last ditch effort, is the way I would frame it. We have given you two bites at the apple to remedy these issues,” said Russo.

Instead, Russo says Clinton officials sent a letter in December “requesting extension for no later than six months” to fix all the issues, but the state denied the request. “We figured we have given them enough time to comply. We have a mission to ensure that the Town of Clinton has drinking water and we are prepared now to ensure that does take place,” said Russo.

The mayor now has two weeks to fix all the issues. She will have to do so without a water operator, since he resigned Thursday, Jan. 3.

If nothing is done by the deadline, the state issues an administrative order, giving Clinton 20 days to appeal. Otherwise, the state begins fining Clinton and citing penalties, but at least one Clinton alderwoman has said the town does not have much money left in the general fund. “We found out we hardly had any money left,” said Mary Dunaway.

If they cannot pay the fines, the state will provide an interim water operator and charge Clinton for the cost. They’re extreme measures the state does not take often. “Reaching this level, I would say it is pretty uncommon and rare,” said Russo.

The victims caught in between are the people who live in Clinton.

Right now, just one well provides the entire town with water. State health examiner, Dr. Jimmy Guidry, says that well will eventually go out. At this point, many are fed up and Clinton resident, Raymond Taylor, has one message for Mayor Bell: “Go ahead and step down. Let us find someone who can run our town in a better fashion."

Calls to Mayor Bell were not answered or returned.

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