PORT ANGELES — In a call for civil disobedience, fluoride activists have mounted an effort to get city utility ratepayers to withhold payment of the water-usage portion of their utility bills.
The goal: Get the city to stop fluoridating its drinking water.
Ratepayer Jessica Grable put the $40 she would have paid for her December water bill into a savings account until the city does exactly that.
“That money will stay there until the city does something about clean water, water without fluoride,” said Grable, attributing a host of family medical problems to fluoridation.
“When I get the clean water, the money is theirs.”
City Finance Director Byron Olson said as of Monday, eight ratepayers have withheld payment, notifying city staff in person or through an online, payment-withholding “no-pay-fluoride” effort by the nationwide group Fluoride Action Network.
Some also have withheld their wastewater bill payments.
“Join fluoridation civil disobedience in Port Angeles,” says the Fluoride Action Network’s online form.
It includes an email to the “City Council members, city manager, and utility department”:
“I have not consented, and do not consent, to being medicated by the city’s addition of fluoride to my drinking water.
“In my view, it has been adequately established that fluoride is neurotoxic and damages the brain,” it adds, and refers to www.fluoridealert.org.
Fluoridation proponents have contended that fluoridating city water with 0.7 parts per million of fluorosilicic acid is not medication, but rather a broadly successful public health measure to reduce tooth decay, particularly in children.
Proponents have said many anti-fluoridation studies cover the impacts of fluoride when it is ingested in far greater doses.
The effort to withhold water-use payments was mounted after the City Council decided 4-3 Dec. 15 to continue fluoridation for 10 years — though not under a 10-year contract that ends May 18 — and reaffirmed that decision Jan. 15.
But in saying they would not let the issue rest, fluoridation foes pointed to the results of an unscientific City Council-approved survey of city water users — including those in the Clallam County Public Utility District — that showed a double-digit percentage of respondents were against fluoridation.
Fluoridation critic Paul Lamoureux said Monday he initiated the distribution of the Fluoride Action Network email.
He said “pressure, pressure, pressure” is behind his efforts.
“Pressure against the City Council [members] who have disregarded the invited vote on the survey to continue fluoridation. The community did not create this problem with the city.”
Fluoridation opponents also have pledged to change city government in an effort to throw out the seven-person City Council, four of whom — Mayor Patrick Downie, Deputy Mayor Cherie Kidd, and council members Brad Collins and Dan Gase — formed the pro-fluoridation majority.
Anti-fluoridation leader Mike Libera said Monday a petition of registered voters has garnered about 50 signatures of the 467 needed to get the government transformation measure on a citywide ballot.
He said dozens of petitions are in the process of getting signed.
Libera, the president of “Concerned Citizens for Safe Drinking Water” and vice president of the group’s political action committee “Our Water Our Choice, said he is “skeptical” of the effort to withhold water utility payments.
“My suggestion would be to withhold all of it,” he said.
Libera, who does not live in Port Angeles, said he swims twice a week in William Shore Memorial Pool and drinks the tap water when he’s in the city.
“I’m impacted like everyone else,” he said.
“I’m even more impacted because I’m in the pool so often.”
The withholding of water utility payments has had little impact so far on the city, officials said Monday.
Olson said water payments account for about $50 of an average overall monthly utility bill of about $200.
Craig Fulton, city Public Works and Utilities director, said he expects the total number of payment withholders to equal fewer than 100.
The process for obtaining payments for delinquent bills includes a warning period, notices, placing door hangars on door knobs and establishment of a payment plan.
Olson said the city can shut off utility 60-90 days after a bill first goes unpaid.
The current city code does not distinguish between delinquent payments for simple nonpayment and delinquency for nonpayment as a political protest.
“We haven’t totally formulated a plan on how to handle this,” Olson said.
City staff will meet in the next week on how to go about getting the protesters to make their withheld payments.
Olson said depending on how widespread the nonpayment protest becomes, the cost of lost revenue could be spread out across all ratepayers regardless of their view of fluoridation.
When Peninsula Plywood went bankrupt in 2011, the hundreds of thousands of dollars its owners owed the city in utility costs were covered by city ratepayers forced to bear the brunt of the unpaid bills.
“Five or 10 people over the last two months is not much impact,” he said.