Johnstown to take over water operations for four months; Boil water advisory could be lifted by midday Sat.

PHOTOGRAPHER:

JOHNSTOWN – The boil water advisory now in place in the City of Johnstown may be lifted as early as Saturday midday, according to Mayor Amy Praught. 

Residents have been under a boil water advisory since Wednesday evening, July 27 because the city did not have qualified operators to run the treatment plants. 

A water plant operator has been back in place since Thursday morning.

“The state requires us to do two days of testing of the water because it was unsupervised for more than 24 hours,” she said. “Obviously you have to wait for the test results to come back. Each test takes 24 hours for results.”

“The state has been working with us and been very cooperative on understanding our situation and trying to expedite everything, but again they have rules and regulations they have to follow and they’re here for the health and welfare of the residents and the water drinkers – water users.”

The boil water advisory was implemented after the senior water operator, who had been working for the city while it oversaw operations, left his post a few days ago not long after a judge ruled in June to keep operations under the purview of the water board, Praught said. Social media accounts are not accurate, Praught said during a special city council meeting Friday morning.

The water board was to contract with Environmental Consultants to oversee water operations, however board President Mike Capparello said that firm backed out at the last second. 

During the special meeting this morning, Praught said the company backed out after seeing how complicated it was to run the city’s water system. 

At the special meeting the city council voted 4-0 to execute a contract with the Water Board for the city to take over operations for a four-month period. Councilmember Scott Miller was absent from the meeting.

Capparello said the Water Board approved the decision unanimously at its special meeting Thursday evening and that it does allow for the contract to be extended if needed. 

Under the contract the city would have sole control over operations for the next four months and the treasurer would have access to financial accounts to fund such operations.

In order to relieve the operator on weekends and vacations the city also voted to hire JFC Water Consulting out of Victor Mills to ensure there is always someone at the plant.

The contract would start immediately, Praught said. 

JFC would be paid a $1,000 retainer each month, according to information provided by Jake Fort the owner and operator of the company. Weekend coverage for a minimum of four hours a day would cost $112.50 per hour, as would any weekday coverage for a minimum of four hours. Any non-emergency unscheduled coverage for a minimum of four hours would cost $150 per hour. The on-call fee would be $100 each day and emergency call-ins would be $160 per hour.

The contract is in place for one year with a clause that either party can terminate the agreement given 60 days written notice to the other party. 

This all comes after Montgomery County Supreme Court Judge Rebecca Slezak ruled the city of Johnstown must give the water board back control of its bank account and must stop interfering with the board’s employee relations, bargaining ability and budgeting process. 

Praught said the city has followed that ruling. However, she said she believes the Water Board has run its course for being in charge of the city’s water operations. 

“This is not about politics and this is not about power and this is not about money, it is about protecting the people of the city of Johnstown and safety must always be first,” Praught said. “I am not basing any decisions on past actions of the Water Board or the city. I’m here to do what’s right.”

She said the Water Board has had sufficient time to come up with a plan to run operations.

It was also at that special meeting the board approved 4-0 a local law to abolish the water board, which would be subject to referendum in November. 

This would be the third time a city administration has tried to abolish the water board. 

The city received mixed responses at a public hearing July 18 about abolishing the board. City resident Gary Locetelli, who spoke at the public hearing, addressed the council during privilege of the floor this morning. 

“It is my belief that those who now and in the past served on the Water Board did it with the intention of doing what’s best for the residents of our city, but time and time again the Johnstown Water Board has let the residents of our city down,” he said.

Locatelli said the Water Board has wasted taxpayer money on inadequate research on faulty water meters, failed to rectify the Cork Center Reservoir Dam and didn’t have a backup senior water plant operator. 

Now residents are boiling water, Locatelli said, noting he wants the board abolished.

“Yes, the city charter states that Johnstown shall have a water department and that that department shall be under the direction and control of the Water Board, but charters can also be amended and changed, so that they may better serve the people.” 

He was the only member of the public attending the meeting to speak. 

Before closing the meeting the mayor apologized to the residents and business owners of the city. 

“You did not deserve this,” she said. “We need to do better. This today is a start. The residents are at the top of my mind.” 

 

By Shenandoah Briere

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