The elephant has left the room

Our City
A.F. Mayor Marc Beitia

It is morning yet again; the only good thing about it so far is the coffee. That headache I had a few months ago is back; the one that comes from not being able to turn my head off long enough to get my requisite amount of sleep. The elephant appeared at the base of my skull yesterday morning when my phone rang — Pete Cortez on the caller ID — and has been getting bigger the more I think about it. Judge Laggis and I were set for a day of blast and cast on the opening day of pheasant season, and with the river below the dam at about 350 cfs. Lilly, my yellow lab, is getting back into shape from hunting Ruffed Grouse, Hungarian Partridge and Sharptail Grouse for the past two months; all stocking my fly tying stores that feed my passion. Lilly did a wonderful job and put up over a dozen birds, but we could only put color on one of them as she retrieved the rooster to my hand, while the elephant kept growing. The river was the color of stale 2% chocolate milk, the once aquatic habitat lays exposed and whatever life it held is in the process of dying from dehydration or suffocation. It fit my mood. With a scarce 12 inches of visibility in the water column, I landed one fish on something black. It is not the fat chunky 20 plus inch fish we usually catch, no; it was 20 plus inches but for some reason seems to have been on a weight loss regime. Hmmm?

All in all it should have been a good day, hell, I even won money playing Pinochle with Sally and her folks. The Blanton’s I drank during the game didn’t even touch my headache as the elephant continued to grow. The elephant could have been caused by any number of things this week, be it the federal government, the new parking ordinance proposal, the Horseshoe Bar, agenda item #5 from Wednesday’s city council meeting, the accident at the wastewater treatment plant, or it could even have been the fact that Brooke Ramone, a member of our FFA Ag Issues team, has serious health concerns and will not be able to participate in the national event in less than ten days. But, it is none of those.

It is a question I have been asking myself for almost a month, a question Superintendent Pete Cortez has been asking out loud for the same amount of time, and a question Kacy Gehring asked at last Thursday’s downtown construction meeting, “what happens if chlorinating and flushing don’t work to eliminate the Total Coliform Bacteria (TCB) problem, then what?” Pete called to tell me yesterday that in the first round of two tests, Roosevelt was absent (passed), but Idaho was present (failed). In the last tests, the results were just the opposite. During a two hour meeting with several engineers, the Idaho Transportation Department, DePatco and the city, I learned from Bryan Phinney, an engineer with Keller Associates who specializes in this type of problem, that TCB is very transient, it can move within the system, and can be very difficult and, as we are finding out, sometimes impossible to isolate once established, but it does have to have a source. I am waiting for the test results that will be available within hours, but at this point I am less than optimistic, much like Kacy Gehring and Pete Cortez.

To my limited knowledge the “then what” has one option that would take place in two stages and be extremely expensive, which is why it is the very last option. But, before I get into that let me clarify one thing: although we have been flushing and chlorinating the waterlines on the second blocks of Idaho and Roosevelt streets along with two blocks of Tyhee for the past several weeks, different techniques and practices have been used to try and dislodge whatever is causing the problem. It is not like we keep doing the exact same thing over and over hoping for a different outcome. At this point some may disagree, but we are smarter than that.

The final option, as far as I know and the growing elephant in my head, would involve buying and somehow sterilizing a $50,000+ portable sewer camera as they are the only kind capable of traveling horizontally through pipe over long distances, finding whatever the TCB source is then tearing out the sections of new construction (cha-ching) to get to the pipe and remove whatever it is that cannot be dislodged by flushing and chlorinating. It is the elephant in the room and the one in my melon, which few openly want to talk about, and it keeps growing with each passing day. I know the business owners on the 200 block of Idaho are frustrated, and quite honestly and frankly, rightfully so. All I can do at this moment is apologize on behalf of the city and DePatco for the interminable delay.

“Free at last, free at last, thank God almighty we are free at last!” I don’t mean to desecrate Dr. King’s words, BUT it is no small relief. The elephant has left the downtown project. I held off writing anymore on Sunday morning because I didn’t want to jinx the tests. Sunday’s water samples for Idaho, Tyhee and Roosevelt came back absent which meant the second block of Tyhee and the 200 block of Roosevelt passed all required water safety tests; and the 200 block of Idaho and the first block of Tyhee passed their first tests. It is Monday now. I waited for the next tests from Tyhee and Idaho to finish this column so I could report the results, both streets are absent of TCB! The system is clear and construction should proceed on all streets once the required reports are delivered to the DEQ and signed-off on, by the time you read this.

As a precautionary measure I have instructed Superintendent Cortez to begin a very low dose chlorine treatment of the city’s water system, as we do not want a flare up of TCB should any residual be left anywhere within the construction site. Again all the lines on those blocks in question are clear of TCB, but as I stated above it is transient, this is just a precaution that I believe is needed and prudent. I would like to thank all those involved in delivering the solution as it was definitely a collective; each of you has my most sincere gratitude.

Until next week…



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