Kiger: Heavener dirty water also hurting county
After seven Notices of Violations (NOVs) and 27 Oklahoma Administrative Code (OAC) deficiency findings from an Aug. 28 Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) inspection, DEQ found multiple causes for unsafe and dirty water being produced in Heavener by clearly stating each of the findings in their final report. These findings by DEQ included violations that showed operations and maintenance of the water plant lacking, water personnel unable to describe the system's alarm sounds and not knowing the set points and many of the perimeters required for proper chemical use in producing potable water for the public.
The HUA held a special meeting last Thursday night to address the DEQ reports, but the city manager and the council didn’t talk about steps moving forward. Instead, some city leaders stated that the DEQ misunderstood much of the data and responses provided by Veolia personnel during the recent inspection and the city is now working with DEQ to clear up the mistakes and the correct report will show the city of Heavener’s water plant is now more in compliance than DEQ stated in their letter issued to the city and HUA on September 23rd.
This was the tone of the city manager and most of the councilmembers who spoke, even after I read out loud the 7 NOVs and quotes from DEQs findings that also included possible threat to environment and to public health. They couldn’t tell me how they could make comments like that to the public when lives could be at risk. The public grew angry with the lack of caring expressed by the council in the meeting and in the last half of the meeting one councilwoman stormed out with her phone and cigarettes and slammed the door behind her.
After a couple days of thinking about what I had just witnessed, from a full house of residents speaking up at the HUA meeting and with the public and Heavener Ledger calling for Veolia to be removed, I decided to look back and think about what I’ve seen and heard over the past 5 months working on this problem with the City of Heavener.
There's no doubt that many on the city council are the problem. Even with the seven NOVs Veolia helped create, the city continues to buy into everything Veolia tells them. The council is made up of people who - except for two – have served at least 10 years. Over those 10 years, the city has lost their Chamber of Commerce; current businesses have experienced higher operating costs due to dirty water; the largest industry in town recently lost their biggest customer due to dirty water; people are unable to bathe or wash their clothes and are forced to go to friends or relatives out of town in order to accomplish this simple task; no one drinks the water and everyday more people are forced to buy bottled water to use to cook; real estate sales are down, and Realtors say it's almost impossible to sell a house in Heavener; more recently, we are hearing of people who are experiencing stomach problems or who have had them over the years. All of this doesn’t begin to mention the untold amount of cost and damages placed upon the people, the businesses and the industries of Heavener from damaged personal property due to water condition of Heavener.
On top of all of this, most city leaders continue to be in denial about the deterioration of their city both physically and economically. The damage isn’t just affecting Heavener, but everyone living and working in LeFlore County. Heavener is a large part of the county’s economic engine, and if city leaders don’t get a handle on this situation now, each and everyone in the county could be affected by a continued loss of business, revenues and property taxes that are important to county government and all people.
I have said it from day one, the City of Heavener is located in one of the most beautiful parts of SE Oklahoma and could have a great economic future. The city has great people but poor city leadership. Since city leaders deny many of the findings of DEQ's recent inspection, I've requested a meeting with the director of the state Health Department to review the DEQ inspection and to help make the determination if there is a real threat to the environment and to the public's health. If DEQ's findings are correct on the turbidity numbers being reported incorrectly by Veolia, or if the city isn't able to confirm the correct turbidity numbers reported to DEQ, which can hide bacteria that is harmful to the public, then I'm going to call on the state attorney general to review the DEQ report to confirm if all required data was reported correctly, or if they were possibly reported incorrectly and submitted to the state as falsified numbers.
Clean water is what the people of Heavener want and deserve. Veolia has lied repeatedly to city leaders, and it is time for city leaders to wake up and get things right or just get out of the way and let the state do its job for the people of Heavener.
I've dealt with the professionals at DEQ for many years, and I'll put my money on their expertise and knowledge of being right more often than wrong anytime. As I told the city council at their last public meeting, I don't have confidence in what they tell me or the public any longer related to what DEQ has said to them or not as their meetings on resolution continue. So I reach out directly to DEQ to learn what was really happening through public information to know exactly what's correct and accurate.
People in Heavener talk about the time 26 years ago and prior when they could drink Heavener water from a tap, and the water was clear. So what happened 25 years ago to make the difference? In my opinion, Veolia. The company was hired by the city of Heavener 25 years ago, and it is the source and causes of these problems. This is a company that doesn't care enough to maintain or operate the city's water plant correctly and Veolia has done terrible damage to the pipes and water distribution system of Heavener, not to mention the damage done to private property and costs to the people of Heavener.
I've told the people and businesses of Heavener that I'll do everything possible to help the city in producing clean water. But if the city doesn't get serious and start showing more concern now about clean water, putting the public's health at risk or under a threat of possible risk due to unusable water, I will work outside of city leaders and will turn directly to state leaders to make sure the people of Heavener once again begin receiving clean water! But one way or the other, the city of Heavener will one day soon start receiving cleaner water for their needs.
Lundy Kiger is the District 3 State House representative. Contact him at Lundy.Kiger@okhouse.gov.