News and information from our partners

Heated White Bird town hall addresses water issues



— Spillage from the White Bird City Council meeting Monday, July 11, leaked into the town hall meeting Thursday, July 14.

At the council meeting, Mayor Rod Pilant made a three-page letter available to the public addressing his concerns regarding a handful of rumors circulating in the community. The community responded to his commentary at a town hall meeting at the IOOF Hall scheduled to discuss problems with the community’s waste water plant.

Pilant points out four incidents in particular that include:

  • A donation made through the White Bird Fire Department to Lynn and Steve Kernutt;
  • Accusations made that Pilant was training an individual to work as city clerk before the hire was made;
  • Accusations that a local citizen conspired to get Pilant elected into office and that he was recently assaulted because of the alleged collaboration;
  • And, the most personal, community reaction to his son’s involvement in a recent fatal accident on Highway 95.

In the letter, Pilant wrote:

“This is not a problem I can fix on my own, not legally anyway. I have spoken with the sheriff to ensure safety on our streets. He has informed me that all legal actions have been taken. As for the other violations, the moral violations, well … that is up to us all.

“Are you going to set back and continue to let those whose moral compass is off by 180 percent lead us. Not me, not when a family whom I love … is made to believe I am unsupportive of them. Not when an innocent neighbor working in the next community is targeted and publicly slandered. Not when an elderly man is attacked by a group of hyenas for speaking out against this very thing. Not when a sober 16-year-old boy is persecuted by his neighbors for a horrific accident. I find these actions preposterous.

“I say it’s time we stand up to this behavior. I say we start trying to be more positive about things. I say we work together, help one another, and give support.”

Guests launched into questions about the letter directly after Pilant introduced the panel for the meeting, including Barb Lowe, Paul Sand, Janis Comrie and Homer Brown, all council members; Adam Green, city attorney; and guest speakers Stuart Hurley, engineer with Mountain Water Works, and Kelly Dahlquist, community development specialist with Clearwater Economic Development Association (CEDA).

“As a mayor I don’t think you should put such a one-sided letter out,” said one female community member. “Can you tell me why you decided to do that?”

“First of all, I want to make it clear that the city council had nothing to do with that letter,” Pilant said. “I was approached by a citizen who shared his concerns with me. I decided to investigate it myself. I spoke with law enforcement about it.”

Pilant went on to share with the more than 50 community members in attendance that after delving into the matter he felt a lot of the issue resulted from rumors that were circulating in the community. In response to those rumors, Pilant said, “I signed up for this. I can handle it, but when these rumors start involving others, I have a problem with that.”

The woman responded by saying “You called law enforcement, but you didn’t get the whole story. … A lot of your letter was hearsay and I don’t feel that that’s right.”

Public response to the letter, all negative, continued until a community member reminded attendants that certain matters being discussed were up for litigation and should not be discussed in a public meeting. Others commented that the meeting was planned to discuss water issues and that should be the focus. At that time about 10 people stood up and left the meeting.


The intent of the meeting was to discuss issues at the sewer plant that have, according to Brown, been ongoing for years. Hurley said the lagoons were installed in the late 1970s, while permitting was an issue. According to Stuart, the city council applied for a permit in 1978. However, the Environmental Protection Agency failed to ever approve the permit.

Hurley also noted there were stipulations to the permit’s approval; however because the documentation on the process stopped it is unclear if those were ever met. Fast forward to 2016 and the Idaho Conservation League states the lagoons are discharging into White Bird Creek, which is a violation of the Clean Water Act. The ICL has filed a lawsuit against the city of White Bird in this matter.

Hurley said he has submitted a permit application to the city council for it to sign and submit to the EPA for approval. Once the application is signed, the EPA will review the current situation and consider consent for the permit.

“We looked at ways to meet current state and potential future standards,” he said. “We also looked for the most affordable project and a sustainable approach.”

Pilant said signing the permit application would be a positive for the community.

“If we apply for this permit it buys us a year’s time,” he said.

Currently, the city will need to upgrade the lagoons and repair the mechanical system – including pipes, manholes, and the pump station. The city is looking at a cost of $600,000 to repair the system. With all fees and engineer costs, the city is looking at about $1.2 million in expenses.

Two years ago, the city council raised sewer rates from $25 to $40. The speculation that another rate increase was coming down the pipe had all residents, as well as the panel, concerned. With a plan of action and what funding will be available to the city still uncertain, potential rate increases are still up in the air.

Dahlquist outlined a 2014 grant application that was written up by CEDA for the city and had been approved. At that time, the city was approved for a U.S. Department of Agriculture rural development grant for $525,000. The Department of Commerce granted $350,000 to pay for engineer fees and design. They city would have needed a loan for about $275,000 and had already committed about $50,000 to the project.

Once the city submits the permit application and moves forward on the project, Dahlquist said, she can go back to rural development and find out what level of support it can commit now. Once that is determined, the loan amount will be refigured and cost to the community re-evaluated.

One resident asked what the worst case scenario would be should the city choose not to seek a permit and upgrade the system.

Dahlquist gave another community as an example. She said that in other communities the health department comes in and condemns the system. The condemning of houses followed.

When asked why nothing had been done in this matter for the past couple of months, Pilant responded, “We haven’t been sitting on this issue like a mother hen. We just found out [the council could reapply for the] permit one month ago. I want to make that clear.”

Several residents wanted to know what the first step in the process would be following the meeting.

“Let’s repair the lagoons to meet state requirements, repair the lifts,” Brown said. “Concurrently, let’s get this application into the EPA. … As long as the city is making progress the ICL is going to leave the city alone.

In concluding the meeting, Pilant noted his intent with the meeting was to inform the public and garner feedback. One resident responded positively, “I think it’s really nice that you had this meeting.

“There were a lot of rumors flying around,” she said.


Other items from the White Bird City Council meeting:

  • Council approved an ordinance to move the date of the meetings from the second Monday to the second Wednesday of every month. Time will remain the same at 6 p.m.
  • The next council meeting is set for 6 p.m. Aug. 10. Pilant and the council discussed plans to host additional town hall meetings before deciding on a quarterly event. Pilant also encouraged residents to show up at council meetings to remain informed.


Comments

Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Sign in to comment

CLOSE X

Information from the Free-Press and our advertisers (Want to add your business to this to this feed?)