WESTERLY — A proposed memorandum of understanding between Westerly and Stonington officials would require Westerly to notify Stonington of any water system problems within four hours of finding the problem.
The Town Council agreed by consensus Monday to adopt the policy, which was drafted by the Ledge Light Health District with input from officials in both towns and the Westerly Water Department. Ledge Light, headquartered in New London, provides public health services in Stonington.
Officials in the two towns had agreed to develop a policy following an equipment failure at a Westerly pumping station on Feb. 8 that resulted in the addition of an excess amount of potassium hydroxide to the water. The chemical is used to raise the pH value of the water to reduce its corrosive qualities. Irritation to the skin, eyes, mouth and mucous membranes can result from exposure to high pH values.
On the evening of Feb. 9, a Pawcatuck teenager and her father both reported skin irritation after showering, and tests showed the household’s water pH level as unsafe. The neighborhood’s residential water system was flushed and no other issues were reported, according to Paul Corina, Westerly Public Works director. Earlier in the day, the pumping-station system where the problem originated had been flushed out.
A communications mishap prompted criticism of Westerly Town Manager Derrik M. Kennedy by Stonington First Selectman Rob Simmons. Kennedy left a voice mail message on Simmons’ cellphone to alert him to the problem on the night of Feb. 9 but Simmons did not retrieve it until the next day, after accounts of the problem had circulated on social media. On Monday Simmons repeated an apology he had made previously to Kennedy.
The policy would require notification to “a live person” rather than a message. Specifically, it would require notification to at least one memebr of the Stonington Board of Selectmen or to the Stonington police chief. Simmons stressed that he is seeking improved communication, not to interfere with other aspects of the water system.
“What we are asking is if something comes up on your side that involves supply or quality, let us know in a timely fashion, because otherwise social media fills the vacuum and they usually fill the vacuum with information that is incorrect and sometimes wildly incorrect and that creates fear,” Simmons said.
The council agreed to move the proposal forward to a future meeting, when it will consider adopting it.