Emotions run high at Milledgeville town hall after water crisis
MILLEDGEVILLE, Georgia (41NBC/WMGT) – The repercussions of two water crises were felt around the room at a town hall meeting in Milledgeville Wednesday morning.
When the floor was opened for questions, Steve Johnson, the interim CEO at Oconee Regional Medical Center (ORMC) stood up first and addressed City Manager Barry Jarrett, Mayor Gary Thrower and members of the city council.
“This is embarrassing,” he said. “The inconvenience that was put on our patients and families and medical community was substantial.”
ORMC turned away hundreds of patients and 17 surgeries during the boil water advisory.
Councilman Walter Reynolds agreed with Johnson’s assessment.
“The fact that almost 90 days lapse between the first major break and this most recent major break and there was little to any efforts extended to help prevent this again, like you said, is embarrassing,” Reynolds said.
The beginning of the town hall featured a 30-minute presentation of what events led to the water main breaks and boil water advisories in both April and July. Then, the city presented what actions were taken as a result of the breaks and what actions will be taken next.
Mayor Gary Thrower, speaking on behalf of the city, said they will invest in valve stops, pressure sensors, and geographic information system mapping, even considering an increased partnership with Baldwin County.
Still, there’s no guarantee those investments will prevent another string of water main breaks or a boil water advisory.
“I’ve talked to people at the city water department and they’ve never seen anything along these lines in the past 15-20 years. This is a very unusual phenomenon,” Mayor Thrower said in an interview last week after five water main breaks happened in three days.
Following the town hall, local business owner Melba Burrell expressed frustration with what she heard. She put the blame on City Manager Barry Jarrett, citing incompetence.
“It has caused us to lose money,” Burrell said. “It has caused major losses through the city, and it doesn’t appear that I heard any plan at all.”
Jarrett did not speak at the town hall on Wednesday, but in a phone conversation last week, said:
“A break in a line, I don’t know anything I could do to prevent it.”
Jarrett’s statement is accurate – water main breaks are unavoidable and happen all the time. The Milledgeville Water Department said they experience three or four water line “problems” every 30 days.
So far in 2016, the city has invested $558,792 in water main repairs and preventative measures, up from $241,161 for the entirety of 2015.
The city is looking to invest more money to determine what is causing the problems and to prevent such widespread impact.