Ketchikan is seen from the water on a beautiful sunny day.

Some members of a group that opposes the City of Ketchikan’s new water treatment system met with city officials this week to talk about how best to obtain public records that group members hope will provide answers to the process the city went through when choosing the new system.

United Citizens for Better Water is collecting signatures for a proposed ballot initiative that would prohibit the city from using chloramine – a combination of chlorine and ammonia – to disinfect its water.

The group also is collecting background information, and organizer Amanda Mitchell has requested records on the project, which has been going on for about a decade.

During the meeting with Assistant City Manager David Martin and City Clerk Katy Suiter, they talked about the history of the project, but the main point of the meeting was to determine what public records the group wants, and how to find them.

They started with a discussion of the original study, from consulting firm CH2MHill.

“So, CH2MHill spent a lot of time studying the water, the watershed, the treatment process, and at some point came back with two orders of magnitude – either you could do this for X amount of dollars, or you could do this,” Martin said.

Mitchell asked whether the city was given a written report, and Martin said he hasn’t been able to find one.

“It’s probably in Council minutes, as a Council packet,  at whatever time that meeting occurred,” he said.

Martin explained that while the document is available, finding the right one is not always that easy. The city doesn’t keep all the records in one place, and staff would have to sift through a significant amount of paperwork to find everything the group requested – some actually on paper, even, because the project dates back to before the city’s electronic record system.

The city had told Mitchell that fulfilling all the requests for information about the project would cost the group about $1,400, because of the staff time that would be required. If they can get the searching time down to five hours or less, it would be free.

Mitchell said a list of contracts related to the project would be helpful, but she also wanted to know what options CH2MHill presented to the city, and group members had specific questions about the city’s water treatment system.

Martin recommended that group members talk with Water Division Manager John Kleinegger, who is on leave right now, but will be back on the job March 21. That discussion also could refine the records requests.

“He may very well be able to say almost definitively to the year, and if he’s able to point you in that direction toward a specific, shorter range of time, for Council minutes, then either you can find it or it greatly reduces staff time to search,” Martin said.

Mitchell agreed to contact Kleinegger when he returns, and will try to arrange a tour for some of the United Citizens group members of the city’s water treatment facility.

Near the end of the meeting, one of the group members thanked Martin and Suiter for their help, and noted that a lot of residents had just found out about the city’s plan to switch to chloramine. That sparked a response from both city officials. Suiter said all Council decisions are advertised beforehand, conducted publicly and reported afterward. Martin added to her comments:

“If people don’t read the paper, if people don’t listen to the radio, if people don’t care enough about what’s going on and then all of a sudden, ‘Nobody told me about this,’ I don’t buy it,” he said. “People didn’t just find out about it. People finally started paying attention.”

People are certainly paying attention now. In addition to a website and its ballot initiative petition, the United Citizens group has more than 200 people following its Facebook page. And about that many residents showed up for a presentation about chloramine by a representative from the office of national consumer advocate Erin Brokovich.

The group also hopes to make an impression at the next Ketchikan City Council meeting, and is asking its supporters to show up wearing blue shirts.

The City of Ketchikan had planned to start the ammonia-injection this month, but had not given a specific date. At the request of the United Citizens group, the Council told city management to wait, at least until after the Council’s next meeting, when the topic will be on the agenda.

The next Ketchikan City Council meeting is Thursday, March 20.

Related links:

A video from Bowcock’s presentation, posted on YouTube by an audience member:

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