Inspection report points to water protocol deficiencies


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A report coming to council Monday indicates the city’s water distribution system had compliance issues, albeit relatively minor, dating back to a boil water advisory issued in September of last year.

The risk to the drinking water supply was minimal, however the Ministry of the Environment water inspection report is significant in that it may prove a precursor to events emanating from two boil water advisories issued in August and September of this year.

The MOE report, issued after a May 11, 2010 inspection of the city’s water distribution system, found three non-compliance issues which did not meet regulatory requirements. Nevertheless, the final inspection rating was 94.44%.

It is the nature of the non-compliance issues that is disturbing — issues that point to weaknesses in or an absence of clear protocol for the management of the water distribution system.

In the first instance, the report notes “corrective actions were not taken to correct adverse conditions, including any other steps that were directed by the Medical Officer of Health,” following the 2009 boil water advisory.

Was this due to a breakdown in communications between the city and Elgin-St. Thomas Public Health, which would have issued the advisory?

If you remember, communication protocol was deemed the weak link in the most recent pair of advisories.

The second report item indicated “the owner (the city) shall implement clear and concise protocols to ensure that staff responsible for the operations and maintenance of the drinking water system are provided with direction.

Were these new protocols in place prior to the August advisory?

The third item noted “all reporting requirements for lead sampling were not complied with as per schedule.”

The inspection report continues with a listing of eight best management practices and recommendations.

In response, the city has developed Drinking Water Quality Management Standards. However this step, according to Edward Soldo, manager of operations and compliance for the city, has led to an increase in data management and resultant paperwork.

The solution: hire a water technician — a proposal which will be put to council prior to deliberations on the 2011 operating budget.

How many new hires have we seen at city hall in the past year or so? And yet the resolve remains firm in the mayor’s office that we can’t afford a CAO, a “super bureaucrat” who would cost the city $1 million over the next four years, according to the mayor’s web site .

Of note, Mayor Cliff Barwick publicly tore a strip off Ald. Heather Jackson-Chapman for mentioning the August boil water advisory and Walkerton in the same breath.

And yet Soldo’s report concludes with a reference to Walkerton and the need to adopt quality management systems for water distribution systems.

Is that fear mongering or reality?

Seems to this corner Jackson-Chapman was attempting to point out much the same.

ACCESSIBILITY CHALLENGE

Plaudits to Bill Sandison, Wayne Northcott, Linda Stevenson, Rose Gibson, Joan Rymal and Ald. Lori Baldwin-Sands, who joined this corner and tireless advocate Ed McLachlan for the City Scope accessibility challenge this week.

The group visited municipal facilities including city hall, the police station, Emslie Field, Pinafore Park and the Timken Centre to discover first-hand the obstacles faced by residents hoping to enjoy events at those venues or undertake business with staff.

Whether seated in a wheel chair or peering through vision-impairing glasses, it is safe to say the participants were profoundly impacted.

There was a feeling of humiliation, noted Sandison after exiting the washroom at Emslie Field.

“Personally, I think accessibility goes to how you’re valued as a citizen,” noted Rymal.

We’ll have more comments and photos next week.

See also “People in a wheelchair don’t have the ability to cheat.”

MISSED OPPORTUNITY

Still with the accessibility challenge, several candidates boast in their campaign material that a priority plank in their election platform is quality of life in St. Thomas.

And yet, not one of these candidates and incumbents bothered to join McLachlan to spend a couple of hours experiencing the day-to-day trials and tribulations of an individual coping with accessibility issues.

Or, is their quality of life not a priority?

QUESTION PERIOD

In the run-up to the Oct. 25 municipal vote, we have encouraged readers to send in their questions for candidates. In the wake of our accessibility challenge, McLachlan passes along this query for Jeff Kohler, who sat as mayor when the Timken Centre officially opened in September of 2005.

“As past chairman for the accessibility committee, we had many talks about the elevator. You told me at meetings with you and the arena committee, of which l attended a few, that the elevator would meet accessibility code for people in wheelchairs and other disabilities, but it never happened. So, if you are elected, are you going to fix it?”

The point McLachlan is trying to drive home is the elevator, when installed, met minimum building code regulations but did not meet the accessibility code. Is this the best we can do … achieve the absolute minimum standard and aim no higher?

Is this the template to be used for the new police headquarters or will all parties involved strive to establish a gold standard and not bare minimum?

BONUS STORY

For those of you who remember when music used to be listened to on vinyl, one of the delights of purchasing some long-playing albums (when did you last hear that term?) was the addition of one or two bonus music tracks.

Well, such is the case with the internet where this corner can now include additional stories that can’t be shoe-horned into the space available Saturday in the T-J.

So, let’s traipse back to September, 2005, when Caroline Di Cocco, then Liberal MPP for Sarnia-Lambton, informed, “There are two words that come up at election time … transparency and efficiency. And we don’t know what either means.”

This was the rationale for her Transparency in Public Matters Act designed to require more openness from municipal councils, hospital and school boards.

Here’s what City Scope wrote at the time …

The honour system is just not working, argues Caroline Di Cocco, and her persistence in striving for more openness in public issues has the potential to dramatically alter the way municipal governments along with school and hospital boards conduct business.
The Liberal MPP for Sarnia-Lambton is optimistic her Transparency in Public Matters Act will be enacted some time next year and if and when it does become law municipal councils will come under closer public scrutiny.
The bill will allow citizen complaints prompted by business undertaken behind closed doors, investigation of those complaints and provide for remedial measures or personal fines of up to $2,500.
To date this year (St. Thomas) council has spent close to 30 per cent of its time sequestered behind closed doors and although Di Cocco is not as concerned with the amount of time spent in-camera, she certainly is seeking justification for moving business out of public view.
“What my bill does is define what are the items that should go in-camera,” she told this corner. “And then those have to be justified. You need to have some legislation with teeth. That will at least be cause for a second sober thought before one should use that convenience of in-camera sessions.”
The clear aim is curb improper closed-door discussion, a dark cloud that has hovered over this council.
As a by-product, Di Cocco feels greater transparency will remove some of the public cynicism regarding the decision-making process.
“The public has a right to know. There is always that skepticism about how decisions are made. When you add more transparency I think you also add credibility.”
As well, the bill is designed to rein in hospital and school boards.
“The public expects more transparency and I’m certainly going to get some push-back from some hospital boards. But considering the dollar ramifications that standard has to apply to hospital boards as well. I think that’s why they’ve all hired public relations people so that they can put the best light on the information they have to provide.”
Di Cocco tells it like it is and her bill is long overdue.
And damn the ruffled feathers.

Five years later and on the final stretch to the Oct. 25 municipal vote, check out how many candidates bandy about the word transparency. If elected, how many will continue to embrace the concept of openness?

QUOTE OF THE WEEK

“I think I’ve got a fairly good pulse. Is it scientific? Probably not . . . I’ve talked to enough on-patrol police officers who tell me that they’re on our side in removing the gun registry.”

MP Joe Preston has his finger on the public opinion pulse as the federal gun registry survived a close vote earlier this week.

City Scope appears Saturday in the Times-Journal. Questions and comments may be e-mailed to: mccallum@stthomastimesjournal.com.

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