The city narrowly rejected a new filter in favor of a new disinfectant for city water Tuesday.
The proposed $5.5 million bond to build a granulated activated carbon, or GAC, filter for city drinking water failed, 3,402 to 3,178. This leaves Rutland to change its disinfectant from chlorine to chloramine in order to meet federal drinking water standards.
The city’s water was fine by EPA standards until those standards changed several years ago, reducing the allowed level of haloacetic acids. Haloacetic acids are byproducts created when the disinfectant interacts with organic matter in the water. To reduce the level, the city needs to either remove the organic matter or change the disinfectant.
The city had hoped to take the removal option, but turned to chloramine, an alternate disinfectant made by combining chlorine and ammonia, after study of a “carbon sandwich” filter did not return the results the city was looking for.
Public Works Commissioner Evan Pilachowski has sole discretion over the decision, but came to the Board of Aldermen for “direction.” Soon after, a number of people approached the board expressing health and safety concerns regarding chloramine and the GAC filter was proposed at a public forum.
“I don’t want ammonia in my water and I have a 2-year-old,” said Colleen Oesterle, 31, after casting her ballot at the Godnick Center.
After a series of deadlocked votes, the board agreed to put a bond for the GAC filter on the ballot. Pilachowski said he would abide by the decision of the voters. Mayor Christopher Louras spoke against the bond issue, saying he viewed it as an unnecessary expense and that the health concerns were contradicted by the available evidence.
Sixty-one-year-old Margaret Ritter said she voted against the bond.
“Bottom line, the price,” she said. “That’s an expensive addition to the infrastructure. I don’t see that it’s going to make a significant change in my overall health.”
Alis Headlam, part of a citizen’s group opposed to chloramine, said the issue was not resolved.
“I don’t feel the vote is the end of it, but I haven’t heard from anybody about revotes or lawsuits or anything,” she said. “I think that would be out of line.”
Headlam said the city had actually been in compliance over the last couple quarters, a situation she hopes will continue. Pilachowski has said he does not expect that to last, but that if the bond failed he would not implement chloramine until the city fell back out of compliance again.
Headlam also said she was upset at how the issue appears to have divided the city and that she wants to do something to bring people back together again.
“I would hope that if we get to the point where we are putting chloramine in the water, we could work with the local doctors, establish a health line so we can monitor what’s happening in the community,” she said.
Elsewhere on the city ballot, voters approved measures allowing the School Board to sell the Watkins building (5,949 to 679) and the Dana building (5,992 to 655).
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