MEADVILLE — In your local travels today and Sunday, don’t be surprised to see individuals wearing aquatic-colored T-shirts visiting areas that receive Meadville Area Water Authority water. Under the “Meadville Smiles” banner, approximately 50 volunteers will make the rounds clad in bright blue shirts and armed with informational literature in an effort to communicate about their fluoridation effort — and why they think it’s important.
In the spring of 2013, a group billing itself as Community Initiative for Improved Dental Health and representing organizations and individuals including Meadville Medical Center, Allegheny College, regional pediatricians and dentists, educators and other concerned citizens, made a presentation to MAWA in support of public water fluoridation. The “Meadville Smiles” campaign arose out of their efforts.
A group opposed to public fluoridation, now known as Clean Water Meadville, quickly responded, presenting its case during a subsequent MAWA meeting.
Both groups were advised by the authority that its first priority was a pair of massive construction projects to replace the authority’s aging Highland Reservoir and also-aging clearwell at the authority’s Vernon Township wells. Therefore, fluoridation would be tabled for a year.
A year has passed, and the groups have returned, making public presentations both pro and con in various venues throughout the MAWA service area, which includes the City of Meadville as well as portions of Vernon, West Mead and Woodcock townships. MAWA is the sole water provider to Vernon Township Water Authority.
However, according to MAWA Project Manager Don Nold, all the authority’s efforts remain dedicated to getting construction under way on the twin tanks that will replace the reservoir and on the replacement clearwell.
Bids on both projects are scheduled to be opened on April 21. Based on the turnout of approximately 40 contractors for a recent pre-bid meeting, Nold is expecting competition for both projects to be brisk. “I’ve never seen so many people interested in a project,” he said Friday. “Some want to do the tanks. Some want to do the clearwell. Some want to do both. We’re hoping everybody bids — that’s best for the community.”
After a review of the submitted bids is complete, the authority is expected to authorize the awarding of contacts during its regularly-scheduled May 21 monthly meeting. According to Nold, until bids are awarded and construction is well under way, that’s where the authority’s attention will continue to lie.
Local fluoride proponents and opponents, however, are rallying support for their respective positions.
Advocates — both pro and con — are reserving spots on upcoming agendas.
Talks with the city are under way to place a pro-fluoride presentation on the agenda for the city’s May 7 public work session, which begins at 4 p.m. in the new City Building on Diamond Park, according to City Clerk Andy Walker. Plans are also under way to present an open forum in May on a date yet to be determined.
Clean Water Meadville, which has made anti-fluoride presentations before Crawford Central School Board and Vernon Township supervisors as well as before a number of local service clubs, is currently meeting biweekly and gearing up for the battle to come, organizer Christopher Knapp told the Tribune Friday.
“Water authority members didn’t sign up for this when they went on the board, but it’s a responsibility they have now,” Knapp said. “We’re going to be getting out in the community with petitions to try to educate folks on the con sides of fluoride.”