A resident of Havre, Pam Harada, attended Tuesday night’s City Council meeting to address the council during the public comment portion of the agenda, and not about some controversial ordinance.
Harada came to the council with two issues: a perceived lack of concern about the water situation and a lack of communication with the public.
She began by saying that she had heard rumors that the city had a way to make the water clearer but wouldn’t use it because it costs too much. Residents have complained of an orange tint to the water in recent weeks.
Mayor Tim Solomon and his related department heads assured her that those rumors were just rumors and that they are working as hard as they can to find a working solution to the problem.
“It’s not just a throw-money-at-it solution, ” Solomon said. “We tried a new chemical, and it didn’t react well. ”
“There is not a miracle chemical that you can just throw in and fix it, ” said Dave Peterson, director of Public Works. “We tried poly-blends (more expensive chemical cocktails that might have worked better) when they first built the plant in 2000, and they didn’t work any better than what we’re doing. ”
Harada added that she spent her career working on economic development and tourism and that the water was not just a problem for people who live in Havre, but also for the businesses hurt by the people who won’t be coming to Havre.
“You need to think about long-term solutions, and you need to think about economic development, ” Harada said.
Peterson said that they had considered a few options that could possibly address the problems, on a long-term basis, including using reverse osmosis filter systems or moving the water intake up above Big Sandy Creek or Beaver Creek which both have slow flows and contribute a lot of debris, but any of those solutions would be prohibitively expensive.
The water is just much dirtier than most, Peterson said, judging from the reaction the city’s water chemical company had after analyzing a recent sample.
“The chemical company, they just said, ‘You just have some nasty water, ’” Peterson said.
Bonnie Parenteau, who is running as a Democrat in the Ward 1 City Council election, stepped up and told the council that a friend of hers in Helena told her that Havre has some of the best drinking water in the state.
“Despite how it looks or may smell, but, nutritionally, there’s something there, ” Parenteau said. “It sounds bad, but it’s true. ”
Harada’s second complaint was that there was not a clear enough channel of information between the city and the residents of Havre, who now have to rely on the news media that “don’t always report everything accurately. ”
She suggested improvements to the city’s website, www.ci.havre.mt.us, or, as in years passed, the mayor could contribute a letter to the editor of the paper or run radio spots.
The council agreed that the communication could be better and some of the suggested solutions could work, but also acknowledged that communication is a two-way street.
“Maybe we should have a public meeting every two weeks, where people can come and ask the council questions, ” Councilwoman Pam Hillery quipped, referring to the council's twice-monthly meetings. “There is a responsibility that goes both ways. ”
The mayor said that he would work on finding solutions to better reach the people who he and the council represent.