Tense Exchanges Mark Napavine Special Meeting Over Well Problems

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A special meeting in Napavine concerning water quality in an unused city well on Tuesday brought impassioned debate from the city council and attendees. 

The city of Napavine acquired water rights for a well located near the Rush Road interchange from Betty Hamilton around 2004, a decision that Mike Hamilton decided to contest in 2014. 

Mike Hamilton said there were inconsistencies in how the water rights were secured, despite the deal having been approved by the Department of Ecology. A legal challenge to the city’s water rights was struck down, but representatives of Mike Hamilton have appealed the decision. A judge in Lewis County Superior Court will be ruling on the appeal in the coming weeks. 

Jon Hinton and Joe Plahuta were at the meeting representing Gray & Osborne, which represents the city as consulting engineers. 

“We went through what was required and what was typically documented for acquiring water rights,” Hinton said. 

Other issues have kept the city from incorporating what is known as Well Six into the city’s water system. 

One of the issues is a yellow discoloration of the water, which Hinton said was not due to toxins or contaminants but to inert organic compounds. 

The well has been tested by the Department of Health and has a clean bill of health. 

“There’s no health risk to it, but there’s a color risk,” Hinton said. “The ozone should clear the color up.” 

The ozone he was referring to is their suggested remedy to the discoloration, which involves pumping ozone into the well. This process would revert the well’s water color back to a clear liquid within 12 seconds, Hinton said. 

Other options included chlorinating the water, blending upper zone water and that of Well Six or installing carbon-absorbing equipment, which would be costly, Plahuta said. 

The cost to the city for the ozone treatment would be $200,000 and then $9,000 annually. 

The cost raised concerns from City Councilor Mike Wood. 

“That’s a lot for a little city like us,” he said. 

Councilor Larry Stafford also asked why the well would be needed in a small city like Napavine. 

Hinton said there are still connections available for new growth, but not many. If the city runs out of available hookups, and the correlating water rights, no new growth will be permitted. 

Wood defended the expansion of water capacity in the city’s system. 

“Otherwise,” he said, “we’re not going to develop d--k.” 

The water also contains manganese at a level of .046 mg/l, just below the Environmental Protection Agency recommendation of .05 mg/l. Hinton said this level is set for cosmetic reasons, like the potential to discolor laundry, instead of over health concerns. 

Iron is also in the water, as is a sodium level of 77.4 mg/l. 

Documents provided by Hinton said the average American consumes between 4,000 to 6,000 mg of sodium daily and those on restricted diets consume between 1,000 and 3,000 daily. 

Hinton said someone would need to drink nearly 3.5 gallons of well water to ingest 1,000 mg of sodium. 

These assurances did little to ease many members of the audience, including the owners of the Subway and McDonald’s at the interchange, who worried about customers avoiding their restaurants if they were to switch to Well Six water. 

At least one other resident said she actively avoids restaurants where she has concerns about the water.

“Are you absolutely certain that it’s not toxic?” asked another resident at the meeting. 

Hinton again reassured the crowd that their tests indicated no presence of harmful contaminates in the 300-foot-deep well. 

Because it was a workshop, no action was taken, but the council will examine the issue further in the future. 

Also at the special meeting, a resolution to hold city council meetings two times a month was approved with some debate. 

Councilor Jim Haslett said increasing the number of meetings from one monthly is needed as the council works through issues that have faced the city over the past year, including ordinances that were possibly passed without a full council. 

“There’s a lot of issues that have got to be brought up and they have to be brought up in an open forum,” Haslett said. “I wouldn’t be objective to four meetings a month to be honest.”

That sentiment raised opposition from Stafford, who questioned whether twice a month was too many meetings. 

His criticism also turned personal as Stafford took aim at Haslett’s wife LaVerne, who sat on the city council before resigning. 

“Well, we’ll put it this way, your wife sat on the council through the thick of it …” Stafford said before Haslett cut him off and angrily told him not to bring his wife into the discussion. 

The exchange was met by audible gasps from the audience as the council argument briefly descended into a yelling match. 

After order was regained, the ordinance was passed. Councilor Scott Hamilton was not present at the meeting and was excused. 

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