After a heated discussion that devolved into pointed jabs between Board members, the Clancy Water and Sewer District (CWSD) agreed to have a town hall meeting with the Jefferson County Health Board, County Commissioners, and the public at a date and place to be determined.
The town hall was suggested as a way to bring the differing ideas about the future of the central water system together in one room.
The March 23 meeting began with a continued review of survey results. Since the previous month, 12 more surveys were sent in, bringing the total to 42 out of the 92 that had been mailed out. According to the “Clancy Water & Sewer District Stakeholder Survey Summary Results,” the responses came from one business, five public entities, and 35 property owners in the CWSD. Of the respondents, 33% supported the current plan for a public water system, 52% supported a public wastewater system, and 43% supported no action by the board at all. All except one respondent who supported the public water system also supported the wastewater system.
The public water system project has experienced delays in the past few months due the inability to secure a test well site, as well as board resignations in late 2020, which extended the deadline for survey results, and caused heightened concern by county officials over the lack of progress.
CWSD President David Leitheiser said the county should involve the CWSD in discussion to help create a coordinated response. And that is what was proposed by CWSD Board member Bob Marks that evening.
The centralized water system project has been the focus of the CWSD for several years due to elevated levels of uranium and nitrates in some of Clancy’s wells, according to the 2018 Preliminary Engineering Report. Elevated nitrates can cause methemoglobinemia or ‘blue baby syndrome’ which is a potentially fatal condition. Elevated levels of uranium can cause kidney damage and have been linked to cancer.
“It seems to me like there are two or three entities involved in trying to clean up some of the concerns in the Clancy area. It seems like there are meetings going on and on, and some of them are sort of adversarial at times. I think it would be worthwhile if this Board, the Health Board, and the County Commissioners could schedule a discussion,” said Marks.
Jefferson County Health Board Chairperson Christina Binkowski supported the idea. “We need to be educated on your side of the fence — on what actually is going on and what your concerns are … I think that would be a good idea,” she said.
Any decision regarding the public water system was delayed further as the county could receive nearly $2.4 million in federal funding as part of the American Rescue Plan Act, and the CWSD Board agreed to approach the County Commissioners for further funding. The American Rescue Plan Act was signed into law by President Joe Biden on March 11. The bill includes $65.1 billion in aid to benefit every county in the United States. Jefferson County’s total estimated allocation is $2,370,188, according to the National Association of Counties. The CWSD discussed at the meeting the possibility of receiving part of those funds.
The cost to create this central water system is estimated to be roughly $3 million and the CWSD obtained grants that will cover about $2 million.
“The remaining $1.1 million cost not covered by grants is in a 30-year loan paid off monthly by District users,” said Leitheiser previously.
Marks and Leitheiser both supported speaking with the County Commissioners regarding how the funds would be allocated, but there was a disagreement on how those funds should be spent.
Marks suggested using the funds to help provide in-home filtration systems for affected Clancy residents.
Jefferson County Sanitarian Megan Bullock said she would not support in-home filtration systems due to maintenance, reliability and liability issues.
Meanwhile, Leitheiser remained adamantly against a public system.
“I still do not support the public water system,” said Leitheiser.
“I think it is a futile attempt that is going to fail anyway … I do not see this water project succeeding,” he said.
Leitheiser instead suggested approaching the county commissioners for funds that could be used, not for the larger well project, but for specific homes that tested above acceptable levels of nitrates and uranium.
Other Board members also offered their opinions.
“I really struggle with how much COVID money could we get, is it worth it to move forward to see how much we could get, or are we just spinning our tires in the mud with 43% of people saying they don’t want [the centralized water system] at all?,” asked Board member Jen Davis.
When asked if he had anything to say on the issue, Board member Jason Gilliland initially said he did not have a comment, but went on to indicate mounting frustration with the now-stalled project.
“We can’t get any funding if we don’t go through with it,” he said.
“We had funding to put test wells in, but Dave (Leitheiser) wrecked that,” Gilliand said, referring to the test well site on Mark’s ranch near Leitheiser’s home that he and other community members objected to.
“I’m protecting my well,” Leitheiser responded.
“Without a test well we really don’t have a solid thing to go off for cost,” Gilliland rebutted.
“You freaked out the subdivision ( Red Cliff Estates) and they came down here with pitchforks, (they) don’t want no water wells drilled down the flow from them and down the flow from you,” he said.
Bullock voiced concern over what she called “personal agendas” and asked that the CWSD Board think about what is best for the community.
“How are you representing the 33% that want water?” she asked.
“I’m representing myself and my neighbors,” Leitheiser responded.
Bullock asked if it was then better to wait to see how the COVID-19 relief funding played out.
“I don’t think it’s going to make a big difference,” Leitheiser argued. The other board members and those present at the meeting differed with him when it came to seeking out funds.
“If there is money available, why on earth would you not want your community to get it?” asked Bullock.
A Clancy resident present said, “ I don’t know why you would want to cut off your nose to spite your face.”
Davis also supported waiting to see about increased funding.
“Knowing that this money is coming out, I do think it is worthwhile to at least wait and see if we are eligible and if so what are we eligible for,” she said.
Jefferson County Commissioner Cory Kirsch, who represents the Clancy area, steered the conversation back to scheduling the proposed multi-board meeting between the CWSD, the Health Board and the Commission.
“I would think between your next meeting and the following meeting. Maybe a month and a half out we could schedule it fairly easy, and we will hopefully have some answers about the federal CARES Act money by then,” he said.