A group in Hastings won the latest battle in their effort to protect the city’s water supply.
The local chapter of Nebraskans for Safe Water collected 2,500 signatures for two ballot measures, which aim to establish safety criteria for any additives put into the city’s water, including fluoride.
Marvin “Butch” Hughes, the group’s organizer, said this morning that he recently learned that the group had at least 2,150 verified signatures allowing for the two measures to appear on the Nov. 4 general election ballot.
“It’s pretty humbling if you know the truth,” Hughes said this morning. “When we started, it was just a few folks. Then we got the ball rolling and people were excited about doing what they thought was right.”
Hughes said he learned that the group had collected enough verified signatures through a conversation with City Clerk Connie Hartman.
“The county clerk thought the city clerk was going to let us know and the city clerk thought the county clerk was going to let us know,” he said.
Now that the signatures have been verified, the Hastings City Council will place on file the certification of the correct number of signatures for the two ballot measures.
One ballot question states, “Shall an ordinance establishing quality criteria for water additives intended to treat or prevent disease in humans, and requiring specific public disclosures for accountability, transparency, compliance with law, and conformance to industry standards, be added to the municipal code of the city of Hastings?”
The second questions states, “Shall an ordinance prohibiting the addition of fluorosilicic acid or other fluorine-containing chemicals to the public water systems be added to the municipal code of the city of Hastings?”
Hughes and the group had initially hoped that the council would approve the wording of the second question as the ballot question. Instead on June 22, the City Council approved the wording recommended by the Nebraska Secretary of State’s office.
The ballot language the council selected states: “Shall the City of Hastings, Nebraska, adopt an ordinance to prohibit the addition of fluoride to the city’s water supply?”
Voters then can vote “yes” to prohibit the use of fluoride or “no” to state their support of fluoride.
All three ballot questions listed above will appear on the November ballot.
At the Aug. 11 council meeting, Councilman Phil Odom suggested that a second sentence be added to the ballot language stating that if fluoridation was not prohibited, it would not be added until the centralized water treatment facility is built.
The Hastings Utilities Board of Public Works, which deals specifically with the water supply, recommended at its Aug. 14 meeting that the language state that fluoride would be added once HU starts to treat the water for nitrates. This would mean fluoride could be added prior to the building of the new treatment plant.
The City Council is scheduled to make a final decision on any revisions to the ballot language at Monday’s meeting.
Hughes said he’s happy that the group’s ballot issues will go on the November ballot. If enough signatures had not been verified, the group would have had to collect more signatures and the issue couldn’t go to a vote of the people until spring 2009.
“We had a lot more community support than was evident on the surface,” he said. “If we had more time, we could have had twice as many signatures.”
The next step for the group is to create their plan for educating the public on the issue. Hughes said the group plans to put information on the Hastings Public Access Channel 12, in addition to distributing information throughout Hastings.
“We want to make sure they know what they’ve got there with the water quality ordinance,” he said.