CLINTON, LA (WAFB) - Clinton Mayor Lori Bell tells the 9News Investigators that 21 of the 22 deficiencies in the town’s water system have been corrected as has the well that had been shut down. This comes after a series of 9News investigations this week.
Of those 22 deficiencies cited by the Louisiana Department of Health (LDH), 15 were noted as “significant” deficiencies that could lead to unsafe drinking water for the people of Clinton.
Currently, only one well has been providing water to Clinton after the second well at Taylor Street was shut down due to non-compliance. LDH said a lack of maintenance on the Taylor Street well caused numerous issues, resulting in its closure.
Earlier in the week, State Health Examiner Dr. Jimmy Guidry said it wasn’t a matter of if the one working well would also shut down, but when it would be shut off.
“The fact that the first well failed shows poor maintenance,” Guidry said. “The second well also shows some deficiencies that are not being maintained well. It’s not being maintained properly, so this well is at risk, no doubt about it. They have been put on notice, given advice. We are helping to make sure they understand the dire need, but it could end up in a public health emergency if this well goes out.”
On Friday, Jan. 4, Mayor Bell said the Taylor Street well that had been shut down was now repaired.
“The booster pump, which pumps chlorine, was down and it was replaced and they also fixed the pump’s packing,” said Bell. “We have it repaired. We’re not using it. It’s not turned on. It’s not in use, as in providing water to the town, because we have to get the water sampled,” Bell added.
Numerous sources say it would have taken over $100,000 to fix the Taylor Street well and Mayor Bell acknowledged that quote.
Initially, Mayor Bell told the 9News Investigators both wells were operating and they had corrected all 22 deficiencies. The 9News Investigators crosschecked that information with LDH.
“LDH has not been notified that any of the 22 deficiencies have been corrected. To our knowledge, the Town of Clinton only has one well. The second well is out of order,” said LDH spokesperson, Kelly Zimmerman. “To add another well, they would have to apply for a permit and LDH would have to test the water before the well went online. That has not happened. As far as we know, we have not heard from them.”
LDH called Mayor Bell after the 9News Investigators alerted them. Zimmerman said Mayor Bell told them the well was repaired, but not online and was not providing water to the town. A second call to Mayor Bell led to her saying the Taylor Street well was not online because they still needed to sample the water and that all the deficiencies were not corrected yet.
“We have to get a flow meter replaced, but the other 21 deficiencies have been fixed,” said Bell.
Mayor Bell says the town’s maintenance supervisor worked on the Taylor Street well, but he was not certified in water operations by the state as required by LDH. She says they’re still looking to find someone with water certifications, but a maintenance superintendent would be appointed at the town’s next scheduled meeting.
She added four people will be working on the water system this weekend. When asked if any of the four are certified in water by the state, the mayor said, “No."
Mayor Bell has taken a lot of criticism for how she has handled the town’s water system after LDH sent a notice in September of 2018 warning her of the issues. That notice required Mayor Bell to respond within 90 days with all the corrective actions taken, but officials say she never responded. It’s why LDH went out for another inspection in December and sent another letter to Mayor Bell, giving her 30 additional days to fix the deficiencies.
Clinton now has until Jan. 17 to fix the issues and report back to LDH. If not, the state says it plans to move forward with an administrative order and possibly issue fines and penalties.
“We are working on these deficiencies,” Bell said. “We will have this well up and running. I just want to assure the people of Clinton that our water is not tainted or contaminated. I received a call from my engineers and I will be working close with them for our water system.”