Ferriday residents still want answers

Published 12:00 am Monday, August 30, 1999

FERRIDAY, La. – Eight days after Ferriday’s water plant shut down due to clogged filters, the switch that governs washing of the filters is still tied down with a frayed piece of rope – and residents still want answers.

&uot;We have the right to know who tied the switch down and what’s going to be done to them,&uot;&160;said Deede Dore of Ferriday. &uot;It was a criminal act that put the town of Ferriday at risk. Who’s to say it won’t happen again?&uot;

But if Town Attorney John Sturgeon is correct, blame will not be placed for some time, if at all.

Email newsletter signup

&uot;We need to make sure we have everything straight here (at the plant) before we start finger pointing,&uot;&160;Sturgeon said.

&uot;And even then, (officials) probably won’t place blame. We’ll probably just continue making sure the plant stays running,&uot; he added, noting that Mayor Odeal Montgomery and the Town Council would have the final say.

After several days of stopping and starting, the plant shut down Aug. 23.

As a result, water to more than 4,000 residents and dozens of businesses was cut off for two and a half days. And, under a boil water notice expected to last for several more days, they can only use unboiled water for flushing toilets

So when an engineer that helped get the plant running said at Thursday’s Town Council meeting that the system for washing filters had been overridden by tying a switch down, citizens yelled from the crowd, demanding to know who had tied the switch down.

But town officials would not name the person responsible.

Finding out who tied the switch down and how long it has been overridden will have to wait at least until engineers make sure the plant stays running correctly and needed maintenance and training is finished, Sturgeon said.

As of Monday, he was not sure when that would be. And Montgomery would not answer questions Monday, saying she was too busy to do so.

The switch in question is designed to cut off water to the town when water held to wash the filters runs low. But the switch was activating even when the reserve tank was full of water.

The switch is still tied down and will remain overridden until engineers can determine what is causing it to malfunction, Sturgeon said.

Meanwhile, a gauge will let those who run the plant – four operators who work two at a time, plus Howard McKeel, who has doubled as water and sewer superintendent for several months – know if the tank is running empty.

At Thursday’s meeting, engineer Roy Waggenspack of the firm Owen and White also said that plastic beads used to filter large debris from the water the town pumps from Old River had become &uot;glued&uot; together.

When air used to clarify the water finally did break through the beads, it did so with enough force to bust screens located over the filter.

But what actually happened was that a chemical used to clarify the water had fused the beads together, Sturgeon confirmed Monday.

It is still not clear whether the concentration of the chemical was too high, the chemical’s residue had not been washed out of the filter often enough, or both. In all, town officials have asked for three grants totaling $387,400 from the state to update equipment throughout the plant. That includes $8,000 for new filter beads and screens and $30,000 to fix the filter backwashing system.

The town should know no later than next week whether it has received the first of those awards, a $50,000 award from Rural Development, Town Engineer Bryant Hammett’s office said Monday.

Even then, Dore said, she and several other residents still plan to attend Town Council meetings until their questions are answered.