Bennington Select Board chairman Greg Van Houten and local media organizations have begun work on organizing a community discussion panel to discuss the issue of fluoridating the town’s water supply.
Van Houten reached out to local media organizations — the Bennington Banner, CAT-TV, and WBTN — to begin planning the forum, which is tentatively scheduled for Thursday Feb. 12.
Currently, the Bennington Oral Health Coalition is soliciting signatures for a petition requesting an advisory question on the March ballot regarding fluoridation. According to Dick Bower, a member of the coalition, they are already about halfway to the required number of signatures, and fully expect to collect the required number by the deadline. Van Houten stated at the Select Board’s last meeting that the board, which also serves as the town’s water board, would not take action on fluoridation without a positive advisory vote.
“We are well on our way to obtaining the signatures needed,” said coalition member Sue Andrews. “Most people want to see the issue addressed regardless of their personal opinion.” Andrews added that $763,875 has been spent on urgent dental care in Bennington during the last year, not including emergency room and operating room costs from Southwestern Vermont Medical Center. She said that most of that money is made up of public dollars.
“It is likely that there will be an advisory ballot question in March asking the voters to decide if Bennington should fluoridate,” said Van Houten in an email, “North Bennington voters will also vote, but have a separate water authority. My thought is that a neutral forum would be in order, to facilitate the discussion and bring good information to the forefront.”
“My vision is a panel of qualified professionals representing different views on the subject that could explain their positions and answer questions from an audience,” said Van Houten, “As opposed to a simple running of opinions, you would have informed panelists to explain why something is or isn’t accepted as fact by the varying viewpoints. It’s an inexact science, so there are multiple interpretations of good data. There is also a lot of speculation and myth involved, so a qualified panel could help clarify the value of such.”
Panelists have not yet been chosen for the event. Van Houten said that a neutral moderator would be key to giving the public the information they need to make an informed decision, sans politics. All three media organizations Van Houten contacted have agreed to participate in the panel discussion.
The town held a community forum on opiate addiction in October, which led to the creation of the Project Catalyst and EYES (Every Yard – Every Street) programs. Panelists for that event included Dr. Nels Kloster, director of the methadone clinic in Rutland, and Mariah Johnson, a former addict who had been sober for 17 months. That program drew more than 100 people.