The Jefferson County Commission appointed three familiar faces to the Clancy Water and Sewer District board on June 8: Lori Gilliland, Bob Johnson and Bill Hammer returned to the board on which they had previously served before resigning in recent months.
The board was left vacant after a series of resignations in the past seven months, the last being the resignation of sole remaining member and board President David Leitheiser on May 22. In his resignation letter, Leitheiser pointed to the county government as the reason for his departure.
"I have found it frustrating and futile to continue due to persistent interference by county officials and others who behind the scenes are attempting to force their separate agenda on Clancy," he wrote in his resignation letter.
In an email to The Monitor, County Sanitarian Megan Bullock praised the reappointed members.
"They were good board members and served with the best interests of the community in mind," she wrote. "Being [that] they served previously, they’ll be able to hit the ground running."
Commissioner Bob Mullen said he had hoped to receive enough applications to fill the board. Instead, two vacancies remain on the five-seat board, which the reappointed members can fill by selecting new members themselves.
Gilliland previously served as board secretary but resigned on Nov. 24, 2020, after five years of service. In a brief resignation letter, Gilliland wrote that "after five years it is time to move on and give someone else the opportunity to serve the community."
Johnson resigned on Dec. 7, 2020, with a more trenchant letter that cited "the wave of misinformation that has spread throughout the community over making decisions using data and information provided by the experts and professionals working on the water project."
Both resignations signaled that the rift over Clancy’s ongoing water system project had deepened to the point of fracturing the board. Gilliland and Johnson left the board after months of stalled progress on a test well. The plan was blocked by some members of the community and Leitheiser, who cited project costs and impacts to personal wells.
A test well would be the next step in the process of creating a centralized well system. A test well would give the board definitive answers as to whether or not a specific site has the quantity and quality of water to sustain the community, according to Great West Engineering.
Hammer had also previously served on the board but resigned in January 2021.
Now, Gilliland said she is looking forward to "getting back to work," which will include working with Great West Engineering in applying for American Rescue Plan Act grants to help fund the district’s proposed water system, and potentially a sewer system as well.
Both systems are aimed at mitigating Clancy’s elevated nitrate and uranium levels, which were found in a 2017 Montana Tech survey of private wells. Both substances present public health issues.
A 2018 Treasure State Endowment Program grant application filed by the district stated that "nitrates are usually an indicator of human fecal waste" and can cause methemoglobinemia, known as blue baby syndrome, which can be fatal to infants. The grant application also explained that "uranium occurs naturally in the environment and is a heavy metal," and that "exposure to elevated levels of uranium can cause kidney damage and has been linked to cancer."
Bullock had a positive outlook on the future of the board and the participation of Hammer, Gilliland and Johnson.
"They understand the obstacles before them and are sensitive to the financial limitations of the people," she wrote. "They bring with them diverse points of view and will represent their community well."