As The Westerly Sun reported on Tuesday, Feb. 13, in the article ‘Simmons: Water issue outreach was muffed,’ on Friday, Feb. 9, the Westerly Water Department, due to an equipment malfunction, caused a highly concentrated accumulation of potassium hydroxide to enter the water supply. Later that evening, Paul Corina, director of public works, reported to Westerly Town Manager Derrik Kennedy that two Pawcatuck residents “reported skin irritation after taking showers.” Corina “ordered the pipes leading into the house and in the area flushed.” According to Corina, “Kennedy said he would notify [Stonington First Selectman Rob] Simmons.”
Town Council President Edward Morrone has revealed that Kennedy called both Simmons and him on Friday night; Kennedy, however, left only a voice mail message for Simmons. What Kennedy told Morrone and Simmons has not been revealed but, nonetheless, Simmons did not get the voice mail message until sometime the next day. Kennedy made no further effort that night to notify the residents of Stonington or Westerly about the high-concentration of potassium hydroxide in their water supply.
The next day, Saturday, Feb. 10, at 9:50 a.m., Kennedy emailed The Westerly Sun reporter Dale Faulkner to inform him of an “Incident with the Water System.” That email message did not reveal that a larger than normal amount of potassium hydroxide had entered the water system; it also did not disclose that two Pawcatuck residents had “reported skin irritation after taking showers.” Over the next several days, The Westerly Sun and the New London Day published articles on this “water problem” and both newspapers noted that Kennedy would not respond to their requests for comments. The New London Day first learned of the “water problem” from comments made by “residents on the popular Stonington Community Forum Facebook page [expressing] confusion and concern.”
Simmons was justifiably dismayed. As late as Tuesday, Feb. 13, he wrote to Kennedy urging him “to fix the issue of communication so we can tell our constituents what is going on.” He added: “We are a part of the Ledge Light Health District which gives us highly professional help in these matters; and our Police Department has the capacity to put information out into the community street by street. We also have an IT Department that uses Facebook and the Stonington Community Forum to disseminate information during the working week.” Simmons continued, “if Westerly Water knew of the issue Thursday, and I knew Thursday or Friday during the working day, I could have activated the health district and issued some sort of notice using either our Everbridge system or our social media.” (Ledge Light Health District is the local health authority responsible for ensuring the public health for all businesses, residents and visitors of the Town of Stonington.)
Finally, on Tuesday evening, Feb. 13, the Rhode Island Department of Health directed Kennedy to notify all customers of the Westerly Water Department of the “treatment equipment failure on Thursday and Friday of last week that caused excess chemicals to enter their water supply.” RIDOH was “concerned the excess chemicals could still be in homes that have sat stagnant since then, so customers need to be notified that, if this is the case, they should flush their faucets.” RIDOH further forced Kennedy to inform the water customers that “exposure to extreme pH values may result in irritation to the eyes, skin, and mucous membranes. In sensitive individuals, gastrointestinal irritation may also occur.” Neither Kennedy nor Corina had notified the department of health; that courtesy was provided by the Connecticut Department of Public Health.
On Thursday, Feb. 15, Ryan McCammon, supervisor of environmental health for the health district, wrote to Corina and suggested it “would be a good idea to contact [the department of health and have it] contact Westerly Hospital about any admissions they may have had . . . due to possible water exposure.” Corina, however, in an email to Kennedy confessed: “I replied to Ryan to put him off. I don't think we should call the health department and look for trouble.” There is no evidence to suggest Kennedy ever followed up with the department of health to determine if the Westerly Hospital treated residents due to exposure from Westerly’s water supply.
The most shameless performance of this whole sordid debacle occurred at the Wednesday, Feb. 21, Westerly Town Council meeting where, as Faulkner reported in the article “Prompt notices pledged on water,” on Thursday, Feb. 22, “Four councilors praised Corina for his response to the pH problem and defended his experience.” Those same four councilors fell all over themselves praising Kennedy for his handling of the “water problem” and ludicrously defending him from the well-deserved criticism. Kennedy is, no doubt, attempting to bury his blunder. In response to an Access to Public Records Act request I submitted to the town of Westerly, Kennedy deliberately withheld email messages. Despite Kennedy’s coverup, it is clear the episode in Pawcatuck on the evening of Friday, Feb. 9, was not an isolated incident.
If you do not drink the town councilors’ Kool-Aid, Kennedy’s refusal to warn the public there was an excess amount of potassium hydroxide in the water supply was clearly a dastardly act. The juxtaposition in morality is striking: Simmons maintained that if he had the information on Friday, Feb. 9, he would have immediately disseminated it; Kennedy had the information but deliberately concealed it.
Simmons lives among his constituents; he was elected by his constituents; and, he serves his constituents. Kennedy does not live in Westerly; he was not elected by the people of Westerly; and, he does not serve the people of Westerly — instead, he attends to his masters on the Town Council who far too often serve their own special interests. If one believes that “government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth,” does it not follow that government not of the people, not by the people, and not for the people, will produce tyranny?
Kennedy is poisoning the town of Westerly and he needs to be flushed from the system.
Robert L. Lombardo