More than 30 people crammed into Ridgecrest Town Hall Tuesday evening to air concerns over water conditions at the council’s May meeting.
The crowd peppered officials with questions for over an hour. Included in the crowd were former Ridgecrest mayor Bobby Sheppard, former town clerk Dorothy Evans and former councilman Larry Lawrence.
Many came away from the meeting still seeking answers and said they have suffered from skin irritations, stained clothes and are cautious and fearful to bath themselves or their children in the foul smelling, orange water.
“(Repairing Ridgecrest’s water system) will take a community effort, even outside of Ridgecrest,” said Tabb Harris, Ridgecrest resident. “I am glad that our residents came in with questions, regardless of receiving answers. It shows we are in this 100 percent and willing to do whatever it takes to have a better quality of life. Everything in life revolves around water. The meeting did not resolve the orange water we woke up to this morning. I pray it opens eyes to this situation.”
After council members fielded questions from residents, Lawrence spoke up.
“If you don’t like how it is being done, run for office,” Lawrence said. “Stop the damn blame game. These people are trying to do all they can. Bureaucracy goes all the way up to Baton Rouge.”
In response to questions about clean palpable water, Mayor Pro-Tem Rita “Mitzi” Boyler said water buffaloes are still available at Ridgecrest park and the water plant.
Absent from the meeting was Ridgecrest Mayor Robert Maples, who was out of town working. Taking his place was Boyler.
When questioned about the lack of bottled water, Concordia Parish Police Jury President Jimmy Wilkinson said a request for seven pallets of bottled water was still at the governor’s office.
“The request is still there, we just haven’t got approval,” Wilkinson said.
Currently, JCP Inc. of Harrisonburg is working at the Ridgecrest water plant to chemically remove iron and manganese, said Mike McGuffee, head operator for JCP.
Adding to the problem, Ridgecrest had to borrow a pump from Clayton, after one of the plant pumps went out and the condition of plant filters, McGuffee said.
“The filters at the plant are not doing much,” McGuffee said. “They are worn out.”
The Louisiana Rural Water Association flushed out Ridgecrest’s lines last week, but settlement soon starting building up in the system.
“The problem with flushing is you will run out of water at the plant,” McGuffee said. “Full pressure is at 62 pounds. We got down to 56 pounds before we started gaining water while flushing. 55 pounds at the riser means you are just about running out.”
The 60,000 to 80,000 gallons of water Ridgecrest uses everyday travels through six to eight inch pipes, McGuffee said. The pipes are too large for the capacity of water Ridgecrest uses.
“You have way more pipe than you need for the water you are using,” McGuffee said. “All the settlement settles at the bottom of those pipes.”
At the start of the meeting, Boyler amended the agenda without council approval to move the public comment period to the end of the meeting, a move that Councilman Josh Wells and Councilwoman Connie Adair strongly disagreed with. At one point, both council members seem to be collecting their items to leave but changed their mind.
Until the public had a chance to comment both Wells and Adair abstained from voting in the meeting. The council members abstained from voting on the approval of the minutes from last month’s meeting and a special meeting, the village’s financial statement, the annual millage rate and a resolution involving cross connections for Ridgecrest.
Wells cited a portion of the open meetings law as his decision to abstain from voting.
According to the public meetings law set by the Louisiana Legislature, “…The public comment period at a meeting of a public body must occur at the beginning of the meeting, prior to action on an agenda item upon which vote is to be taken.”
In other business, council members passed resolutions to move forward in the application of a Louisiana Community Development Block Grant with a ceiling of $1 million.
If approved, monies from the grant will be used to rehab Ridgecrest’s water system. Officials will find out results from the grant in a few months.
“The money is not guaranteed, but it costs nothing to ask,” said Sandi Burley, Concordia Parish Police Jury secretary – treasurer.
Meanwhile, there has been “a significant reduction” of speeding complaints on Ferriday and Vidalia streets in Ridgecrest, said Ridgecrest Police Chief Thomas Goad.
Additionally, after several complaints of speeding school buses, Goad said he contacted the Concordia Parish School bus barn and said he would “not be extending any leeway to a bus driver because of the precious cargo they are carrying.”
After his conversation with school officials, Goad said school bus speeding complaints have dropped off.
On another front, Ridgecrest council members voted to appoint Jessica Russell interim village clerk after former clerk Dorothy Evans resigned last week.