Residents battle colored water


News editor

A one-hour executive session special meeting preceded the regularly scheduled Peabody City Council meeting Monday night for the purpose of discussing personnel and consultation with city attorney Michael Biggs.

Following the executive session the body returned to open meeting and adjourned.

The regularly scheduled meeting of the council ensued.

Several residents from the southeast edge of Peabody were on hand to complain about water quality in their neighborhood. The city had received phone calls from others in the area with the same complaints.

Bruce Smith, Katie King, and Marion Rosine were present to voice concern over varying shades of green, yellow, rust, and brown water as well as dirt and debris in the water.

City crews had tested water samples and representatives from Kansas Department of Health and Environment had been on-site as well.

A representative of Kansas Rural Water Association also had spent several days with public works director Darren Pickens searching for a solution to the problems.

Because of the water system's aging cast iron pipes, rust and iron are becoming more prevalent in the water. Some of the lines also have breaks allowing dirt and debris into the system.

Based on KDHE test results, the homeowners were told the water is not dangerous. No "boil water advisory" was issued.

"But every load of white clothing I wash comes out the color of the water," said Rosine. "They told me to use bleach, which is fine until you get to the rinse cycle and then the clothes are in colored water again and are stained again."

Council deferred discussion of options until later in the meeting when Pickens arrived to review the problem.

He said there will not be an easy solution to the situation until the pipes are replaced. He recommended (as did KDHE) that the homeowners flush their home water systems a couple of times a week.

The city also is flushing hydrants in the area in an attempt to pull fresh water from the tower to that area and a "burn" of the lines has begun.

"We started a free chlorine burn on Friday," he said. "It will take about two weeks to get through the system.

"That may take care of it for an extended period or it may not do much at all. We won't know until it is complete."

Pickens will pump free chlorine into the water system instead of combined chlorine which is the chemical usually used to disinfect surface water systems. Free chlorine is a stronger agent and will kill any bacteria in the lines. It also may assist with clearing up color and odor problems.

Pickens said the rest of the community might notice lower water pressure from time to time until the burn is completed.

After lengthy discussion the council agreed to bill the residents at 312 Second Street and 108 Maple at their average monthly water and sewer rate for as long as the flushing in their homes continues.

Council also agreed to look at trying to find funding to replace water lines although members didn't offer much hope given the financial crisis caused by the former sewer plant and the aging sewer infrastructure.

In a related issue, John Haas from Ransom Financial made a presentation to council about his group and their ties to KDHE as a financial resource for communities looking for loans and grants for water and sewer upgrades.

No decision was made to use the services of Ransom Financial.

Returning to the problem of closing out the current sewer project, council approved a change order to allow Middlecreek Mining Corp. to recoup the cost of a valve it installed to replace one installed in the incorrect spot. The valve cost $1,477.

Project engineer Al Reiss was scheduled to appear at the meeting but was not present. City administrator Jeff Benbrook said he still has not received "as built" plans for the sewer. Benbrook did tell council that a previously mentioned double billing for $3,000 paid by the city each time was a legitimate cost for two environmental impact studies.

No further action was taken to approve $20,000 to remobilize Middlecreek equipment to finish demolition or the final charges Reiss will charge to oversee the project end.

City attorney Michael Biggs instructed the city to wait until he could review the contracts and correspondence before offering a legal review of the matter.

In other business, the council:

— accepted with regret the resignation of police officer Travis Wilson. Wilson will remain on the roster as a part-time officer as needed.

— approved an offer by Susie Schmidt and members of Peabody Quilt Project to pay for landscaping around the Peabody sign at Ninth and Walnut streets. The group has gotten permission to use water from the school district well near the sign and the quilters will take care of watering and maintenance for the summer.

— also approved an extensive landscaping project at Santa Fe Park being funded by former resident Ruth Mathias Orpin in memory of her parents Ross and Margaret Mathias. Orpin recently was in town and presented the proposal to Peabody Main Street interim director Shane Marler. Marler requested permission from city council to proceed because the city owns the park.

— approved advertising to fill the vacant police officer position, placing an ad to warn that the block of 100 South Walnut will be barricaded to the Mid-Kansas Co-op May 24 and 25, and an ad lowering the base bid price for the former police car to $2,300.

— heard from Pickens the water tower had suffered a lightning strike, but a warranty purchased by the city prevented a $5,000 expenditure for repairs and new computerized parts.

— also heard pine trees at city park are infested with insects that will kill the trees and spread rapidly to others. Pickens said the city is trying to save the large pines around the ball diamond.

— approved the work agreement for Main Street interim director Shane Marler.

— heard the final comprehensive plan report will be at 7 p.m. May 7 in the Ann Potter room, the annual audit will begin May 6 and last for three days, Benbrook will begin looking at the excise tax recovery from city purchases of fuel, Peabody will host a National Flood Insurance program representative for a site visit sometime in the coming month, and the consumer confidence report will be included in the next water bill.

— denied a request for employment of 15-year-old life guards at the pool. City regulations require guards be 16 to be employed.

— approved a request by Ed Slocombe to cut and replace a curb at 407-409 Elm and a request for a private well at 306 N. Elm.

— entered into an executive session for half an hour for the purpose of discussing personnel. The executive session included the mayor and council members with the request that Benbrook remain on hand to be called into the session later. The motion for the session passed three to two with Rose and Peterson opposed.

After half an hour Benbrook entered the executive session. No action was taken on return to open meeting.