WESTERN GROVE — The board of the Ozark Mountain Regional Public Water Authority has unanimously voted to take the issue of water fluoridation to court.
The decision was made at the board’s monthly meeting on Dec. 17 at the Western Grove City Hall.
“This is not a lawsuit,” board member Winton McInnis said. “We are just asking the court to define the law.”
Act 197, passed by Arkansas lawmakers in 2011, mandates that water systems with over 5,000 customers must add fluoride to their water supplies. The Arkansas Department of Health (ADH) had requested a decision by the authority by Jan. 1.
At its November meeting, the board had agreed that Act 197 did not apply to the authority. The authority, they said, was a wholesale water distributor that had only 18 customers, those local water systems that had signed contracts for water. None of those local systems, in turn, had 5,000 or more customers.
McInnis, a non-practicing lawyer, went on to say that there was no law to define a water authority.
McInnis had spoken with the authority’s attorney, Chris Lawson of the law firm of Friday, Eldredge and Clark. It was Lawson’s opinion, McInnis told board members, that the authority had a 50-50 chance of winning. McInnis felt that Lawson probably leaned toward failing, because of federal guidelines.
“This is unplowed ground,” McInnis said. “When you get down to the words in the statute, they may umbrella us in.”
McInnis also presented a case for the authority. A law can’t be passed, he said, that would impair your ability to fulfill a contract. Several customers have made it known that if the water authority has to fluoridate the water, they would quit the system. That would make it harder for the water authority to pay its bills and debts.
Board chairman Andy Anderson said that several water systems signed on with authority because they had fluoride at the time and they wanted to get rid of it.
McInnis continued by saying that while the issue is being considered, the court would put a stay on the law, and any fluoride costs would not begin until the authority lost.
The estimated cost of litigation, according to what McInnis was told by Lawson, would be $12,500. That would cover the cost of presenting it in court and on appeal, which McInnis was sure would happen, no matter if the authority won or lost.
The board agreed, again unanimously, that the cost of litigation would be shared equally among the water systems.
Ed Manor, who made the motion, was asked if he thought that was fair, given that the 18 water systems varied in size.
“I do,” Manor said. “We all got in this together. We signed a contract. We’re all going to gain the same thing. We’re all going to get to the finish line together or we’re not.”
In still another proposal, it was agreed that each water system would pay $100 a month toward the legal fund until the $12,500 was reached.
Anderson informed the board that the Madison County water system was in a similar situation, although it was further along in the process. Madison County, Anderson said, had been given 45 days to get a fluoridation plan into the health department, then after approval, 90 days to implement it. There would be a $500 a week fine after the deadline passed.
“Madison County would like to join us,” Anderson said. “They would be willing to share expenses.”
McInnis said that would be up to Lawson, if the issues merged.
Anderson said he would notify the ADH that the board felt the fluoridation law did not apply to the authority, and it was going through the legal process.
Title of article: Water authority to appeal