Both proponents and opponents shared their views on the contentious issue of fluoridating the city’s water supply with the Hastings City Council Monday.
The council took no action during Monday’s meeting. Instead it discussed the costs and issues with fluoridating the city’s water supply.
HU environmental engineer Marty Stange presented the council with information related to fluoridating the city’s water supply at each of the city’s 24 wellheads compared to waiting until a centralized treatment facility is open.
HU has plans ready and land purchased to build a centralized water treatment facility to chlorinate the water as the nitrate levels are slowly increasing in the city’s water supply.
The cost to set up and inject fluoride into the city’s 24 different wells would cost $1,089,800 initially with annual operation and maintenance costs totally $91,700.
Stange emphasized that this number did not include the cost that may be incurred in putting the fluoridation equipment into some of the smaller well houses or to build well houses where none exist today.
In comparison, the start up costs for injecting fluoride at two centralized points, including the future water treatment center, would cost $317,700. The annual operation and maintenance costs would be about $32,700.
Pediatric dentist Jessica Meeske, the only proponent to speak at Monday’s meeting, again thanked the council for its unanimous decision to support the benefits and concept of water fluoridation.
She spearheaded the group of local medical, dental and health officials who first brought the issue to the City Council in March.
At the time, the council voted in favor of the concept of fluoridation as the Nebraska Legislature was considering LB245, a bill that now requires all communities with more than 1,000 people to fluoridate their water supply.
During Monday’s meeting, Meeske said the proponents of fluoridation in Hastings agree that the benefits are there but also realize the costs to the city as they are all tax payers too.
“We know it costs more if you put it in individual wellheads,” she said. “If the treatment center is coming in a reasonable amount of time 5 years or less then that’s reasonable.”
However, if the treatment plant won’t be coming for another 10 years, Meeske said another generation of children will grow up without fluoridated water to protect their teeth.
Meeske was referring to the water treatment center that HU is planning to build to deal with the future chlorination of the city’s water as nitrate levels continue to rise.
The problem is that HU officials don’t know exactly when the treatment center will be needed and they are trying to hold off as long as possible to keep rates down.
“The time frame is going to be driven by level of nitrates in the well,” said HU manager Marv Schultes. “For a while you can run away from it.”
He said the main reason HU is waiting as long as possible before the plant is built is due to the cost, which he estimates could be in the millions.
Estimates in the six-year budget include $200,000 this year; $500,000 in 2009 and $2 million each in 2010 through 2013.
Butch Hughes, local spokesperson for Nebraskans for Safe Water, said the City Council should be hearing from the public rather than discussing the cost of fluoridation.
“I think we’re getting the cart ahead of the horse and I think we need to get some public comment out there,” he said.
Hughes provided each council member a cover letter and the copy of a proposed ordinance that would require the city and Hastings Utilities to be very specific in their actions if fluoridation is implemented.
“I think we all agree we want safe water in Hastings,” Hughes said.
Hughes said he asked that the council discussed the proposed ordinance prior to June 26 when initiatives will start circulating to have this issue put onto the ballot.
“We would like the council to take this aside and have a special meeting or allow input at the next regular meeting to get input to make sure our water is safe and follow the rules as mandated by the state,” he said. “We want the council the chance to promote safe water.”
Bob Samuelson of 505 W. Lochland Road, a strong opponent of fluoridation, said the city shouldn’t waste the money on fluoride.
He said the money the city will spend for fluoridation is a waste since most of the water will be “flushed down the toilet or put on the lawn”.
Samuelson said he voted against fluoridation when the issue was brought before voters in the 1970s.
“What has changed?,” he asked. “I starting looking on the Internet and nothing has changed. Fluoride is still a poison.”
He asked members of the City Council to each read “The Fluoride Deception”, a book, he said, explains why adding fluoride isn’t such a good idea.
“If you find fluoride in a lake, it’s pollution. If you put it in our water, it’s poison,” Samuelson said. “I think fluoride will go the same way as arsenic and asbestos in the future.”
One of the most emotional speakers of the evening was Lyle Wilder, of 10 Durwood Lane, who said he also voted against fluoridation when it was proposed in the 1970s.
“What was the use of voting against it then if you’re going to turn around and do it again,” he said. “You’re going to make me spend more time working my hind end off to get fluoridation out.”
“I’ve tasted it in the four corners of the country and it tastes like the devil,” he said as he walked away from the podium.
The council only had a short discussion about the issue discussing concerns about the vagueness of LB245, which doesn’t state exactly when the fluoridation would have to be implemented.
The only firm date listed is that a vote of the public to reject fluoridation must be completed by June 1, 2010.
Council member Roger Glen asked about a proposal from Meeske that fluoride only be put into wells targeting the people that are most at risk for major tooth decay until the treatment plant is built.
Schultes said he didn’t know how HU would deal with that and he said there could probably be legal issues with that plan.
“And the legislative bill says you shall do fluoridation,” he said. “I don’t know that you can do just a little.”
The City Council asked city staff to try and find out more information about the legalities of LB245.