Mere days after establishing a schedule for public meetings to discuss water fluoridation, Meadville Area Water Authority Chairman Tim Groves says that schedule is likely to remain fluid for the immediate future.

“We felt strongly that we had to get some dates out there and we felt that a month would be good,” Groves explained on Monday. “But if either party couldn’t make it, we knew we would have to change it.”

MAWA called for public discussions of the controversial issue on Feb. 22 and March 22 at its meeting last week.

“I don’t know why they would do that, give us one month to bring an expert here,” said Christopher Knapp of Clean Water Meadville, a group that opposes fluoridation. “This disadvantages us and it’s an advantage to the pro-fluoride people.”

The announcement came nearly four years after groups both for and against fluoridation first addressed the authority in 2013. MAWA board members postponed addressing the issue until two major infrastructure projects, the clear well and the Highland Avenue water tanks, were completed.

Those projects were completed in 2015, according to Yvonne Shaffer, MAWA business manager. In July 2016, the MAWA board discussed the possibility of holding public meetings in the fall. Finally, in December, the board formed a two-person committee consisting of Groves and board member Mark Gildea to come up with a plan for public meetings. Their plan was announced last week, but already it looks as though at least the date of the first meeting will be changed.

The first of the two meetings is designed to allow members of two local groups on opposing sides of the fluoride debate to offer 30-minute presentations on the topic, with each group allowed an additional 10 minutes to rebut the other group’s argument. The groups are allowed to invite experts from outside the MAWA service area to contribute to their presentations, but the five weeks between the announcement of the format and the meeting itself left Knapp frustrated.

“We’ve been ignored for four years,” Knapp said. “Now all of a sudden they tell us you have one month. They didn’t ask us what time is good for you, what month is good for you.”

While happy to see that the discussion appeared to be moving along after being stalled for years, Knapp was concerned that Clean Water Meadville would not have time to arrange for an outside expert to travel from California to participate in the February presentation.

“We tried to have part in the discussion to draw up a timeline, but we were denied any part,” he said.

Groves acknowledged Knapp’s concerns and said the meetings would be rescheduled if necessary.

“We had thought that would be enough time, but if it isn’t we would have to change the date,” Groves said. “We’ve got to make sure we hear both sides.”

“And hopefully it won’t be too far out into the future,” he added.

Meanwhile, Dr. Denise Johnson, chief medical officer at the Meadville Medical Center and chair of the Meadville Smiles committee, hopes the meetings can be held soon and without too many additional changes, whatever the final date is.

“We have been ready for a long time because it’s been more than four years,” she said. “The dates that were set were fine, but we really wouldn’t like it to be much more delayed.”

Last week Groves had expressed optimism that the MAWA board could vote on fluoridation at its April meeting. It remains to be seen if a change to the timing of the first meeting would delay the second meeting for public comment by MAWA customers set for March 22 and the potential vote in April.