By Allison Scarbrough. Editor.
SHELBY — A precautionary boil water advisory in the village issued Tuesday, May 16, has created inconveniences for 734 households and businesses, causing three downtown restaurants to temporarily close.
The Brown Bear, Deb’s Cafe and the Shelby Bakery were all closed Wednesday. The Brown Bear, a popular restaurant and bar, closed its doors Tuesday night after word of the advisory went public.
Pat Brown, who owns the Pizza Factory, is able to keep her business open, but said dealing with the advisory has been a “pain.”
“I have a brand-new ice machine and I can’t use it,” Brown said. “We have to do what we have to do. The bottom line is I would be out of business if I closed every time this happened.”
There have been several boil water advisories in the village over the last few years. “I think this has been at least the fourth time,” Brown said. “I’m not happy with the village. This is costly.”
The advisory states to use only boiled or bottled water not only for drinking but also for making ice, brushing teeth, washing dishes and food preparation.
“During routine testing, the Village of Shelby’s water system tested positive for coliform bacteria. Coliform bacteria is an indicator that other bacteria may be present,” states the village’s notice issued late Tuesday afternoon.
“Starting May 16, we will be chlorinating the system for six days. At the end of the six days, we will flush the hydrants; let the system settle; and re-sample the water. Once we have obtained two negative sample tests, we will lift the advisory notice.”
This process could take a minimum of 10 days, said Village Administrator Chelsea Stratil.
Many residents are asking why this keeps happening. Stratil said the problem is that the village’s water is not chlorinated. “It has never been chlorinated,” she said. The village is working on a “hybrid concept” that would chlorinate the water once or twice a year, which would solve the bacteria problem, she said. “Then we wouldn’t have these moments of panic.”
“Coliform is not a source of disease. It’s a yellow flag that there might be something,” said Stratil, who also noted that she has been drinking the water.
The administrator said she “totally understands” the frustration of business owners. “It’s a hot, spring weekend, and they can’t make ice, fountain pop, etc.”
Ice Mountain has donated a limited amount of water for the village to distribute to residents Thursday, May 18, from noon to 6 p.m. at the Department of Public Works garage located at 88 W. Sixth St.
Residents must provide proof of residency to receive water. “Please know that due to the prohibited length of time, we are trying to ration our current donation to the best of our ability,” Stratil stated in a notice. “Administration is working to locate additional resources of bottled water during this time.”
Stratil has been working long hours to rectify the situation and has had to deal with “furious” residents. After she explains the situation to them, she is able to calm them down, she said.
She said the village was not notified of the situation by the Department of Environmental Quality until mid-afternoon Tuesday, which is why the village notice did not go out until the end of the day.
The village currently has no system in place to make automated calls to residents, warning them of the situation.
“If a low level of bacteria exists, DPW Supervisor Greg MacIntosh said, “it gets tested for E Coli, which has never existed (in the water system).”
The “hybrid concept” to solve the problem is an idea “being kicked around,” he said. “It gives people peace of mind. It’s more proactive, so we’re not chasing the problem.”
“This is an old water system, and there are problems with old systems,” said MacIntosh, who also stated that he has been drinking the water.
“Our plan (with the current issue) is to follow the DEQ’s advisement and work with them and correct any problems. Whatever is in there, we’re going to find it and take care of it.”
Shelby Public Schools Superintendent Dan Bauer said the district had 750 bottles of water on hand in case the boil water issue arose again. The district also had three to five 5-gallon water jugs in each office, he said. All of the schools’ drinking fountains have been closed off. Hand sanitizers have been placed at every sink in the district, so students can use the sanitizer after washing their hands. The students all received instruction on the temporary procedures. All of the district’s ice makers in the kitchens had to be shut off and the ice disposed.
Normally the school system would have issued a robocall to parents about the water issue, but the system was not working Tuesday night, he said.
“This is the third time it’s happened in the five years that I’ve been here,” Bauer said. So, school leaders made sure to take precautions in the event that a boil water advisory occurred again.
Mercy Health Partners Lakeshore Campus already had a backup plan in place for clean water, said Oceana County Emergency Services Coordinator James Durham. “They have their own back-up supply,” he said. “They have safeguards and supplies in place that do not affect their day-to-day operations. It’s part of their emergency plan.”
Stratil said residents with questions can call her at 231-861-4400.
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