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Residents question boil order notification process

October 21, 2009
BELMONT — A public hearing about the progress of the Pleasant Valley project led to a longer conversation about Belmont's weeklong boil order and how the town should respond to such emergencies in the future.

"We believe it (the contamination) was because of the work that was done up there," Selectmen Chair Ron Cormier said Monday after he was asked whether the public hearing was the proper forum to discuss the boil order. "We can't pinpoint that for certain."

The boil order was put into effect late Sunday, Oct. 11, after water for the Village District tested positive for E. coli. It was lifted last Saturday, nearly a full week later.

While no one had complaints about the fact that the boil order was issued, some were concerned about what they felt was inadequate notification.

"It was an uncontrollable thing," Village Water District resident Jeanette Bouley said. "My problem is having a baby in my house, and I wasn't notified. The next time something happens, I want to be notified."

Both Bouley and Cynthia Sullivan, who also lives in the Village Water District, complained that they didn't receive notification from the town until Tuesday, two days after the boil order was put into effect. Notices were hand delivered to all 700 households in the district, but while some got them Monday, others didn't receive them until the next day.

While Cormier agreed that it would have been best to personally notify all residents on Sunday, "We just don't have the personnel and staff to do that," he said. "We had to rely on the media outlets to get that out as quick as we could."

Town Administrator Jeanne Beaudin said notices were immediately sent to WMUR Channel 9 News, as well as local daily newspapers and radio stations.

Cormier said the town also utilized Shaker Regional School District's automated phone system, which reaches everyone with a child in the school district. Cormier himself got the call Monday, but Sullivan said her family never got one.

"My husband did not receive a phone call, I did not receive a phone call, and I have three children in the district," Sullivan said.

Sullivan and Bouley questioned whether the town has an emergency management system. Cormier said it does, but he wasn't sure whether it was used in this situation. He said town officials followed guidelines set forth by the Department of Environmental Services.

Selectman David Morse said that, considering Monday was Columbus Day and several town employees had the holiday off, he was "taken back" by how quickly the Web site was updated and that the town was able to hand deliver notices in one full working day.

"That was quite impressive for something that's never happened before," he said. "I think there are some positives that, believe it or not, come out of this."

Another positive, said Belmont Public Works Supervisor Craig Clairmont, is that the contamination was found early on, which made the problem easier to rectify.

"We found this in its extreme infancy," Clairmont said. "It could have been so much worse."

Cormier said the only thing the board can do at this point is move forward and look at alternative solutions for future emergencies.

"Short of some huge expensive notification system, I don't know what else to do," Cormier said.

Sullivan asked whether the town could use Reverse 911. Beaudin said they had looked into it two years ago and found that there is "a significant expense to that process."

For now, the board plans to reduce this quarter's water bill for those affected by the boil order. The selectmen will also review the town's Emergency Management Plan and perhaps speak with the school district about expanding the automated phone system options to reach all residents.

"Do we need to take a look and say 'what we could have done better?' Absolutely," Cormier said. "All I can promise you is that we will look into it."

As for the Pleasant Valley project, Aaron Lachance of Stantec Engineering said there has been "lots of progress," and that they're working as quickly as possible to hook homes to the permanent water main to avoid the freezing that occurs with the temporary water main.

By the end of this week, storm drainage should be complete, allowing them to start full roadway reconstruction. The base pavement will go on the first week in November.

"We won't have a gravel surface all winter," Lachance said.

Matin Lord Osman
Salmon Press
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