VERNON TOWNSHIP — Whether Meadville Area Water Authority customers’ water is fluoridated could be decided in April.
The ground rules for a decision-making process that has been years in development was announced with little fanfare at the end of a 25-minute meeting in the water authority’s conference room Wednesday.
Moments before the meeting’s end, Tim Groves, the chairman of the authority, mentioned one item of new business: the format and dates for public discussion of the fluoridation of MAWA water have been set.
Two meetings are Feb. 22 and March 22. As currently planned, the meetings will begin at 7 p.m., Groves said, but a location has not yet been determined. Both meetings will be open to public audiences. On April 19, at MAWA’s first board meeting after the public discussions, the board will make a decision regarding fluoridation.
“We are certainly hoping that we’ll take a vote,” Groves said. “That’s the plan for now.”
The first meeting will feature two groups invited by the MAWA board to give 30-minute presentations on water fluoridation. Following the presentations, each group will be allotted a 10-minute rebuttal period. There are no plans for a question-and-answer period, Groves said. The board hopes, he said, simply to take in the information provided.
Groves described the groups giving the presentations as “pro-fluoride” and “anti-fluoride.” Ted Watts, the MAWA attorney, clarified that the presentations would be given “by invited people who have evidence to the board their advocacy” regarding the fluoride issue in recent years.
The groups would be allowed to invite authorities from outside the Meadville area to be part of the presentations, Groves said. While the first meeting will be open to a public audience, only members of the groups giving the two presentations will be allowed to speak.
The second meeting will follow the usual format for public comment at MAWA meetings. Members of the public who would like to speak should contact MAWA at least 48 hours prior to March 22 to indicate their desire to be included on the list of speakers, Groves said.
Only MAWA customers will be allowed to speak. People who work in the MAWA service area during the day but who do not reside in the area and do not pay a MAWA bill will not qualify as customers, Watts said.
Depending on the public response, Groves said, the length of the comment period may be adjusted. Public comment periods at MAWA meetings are usually restricted to 30 minutes, but this would be extended if more than 10 people sign up to participate, according to Groves.
MAWA has hired Frank Coppola, president of Coppola Enterprises, to act as a mediator for both meetings, Groves said.
The debate over fluoridation, which began in 2013 and included a contentious debate at one of MAWA’s regular monthly meetings, took a hiatus for several years as MAWA tabled the issue while completing major infrastructure projects in the clearwell and Highland Avenue water tanks. The debate flared up again in the second half of 2016 following the completion of those projects.
“You’ve come up with a very even playing field,” MAWA board member Dennis Finton said after Groves announced the plan to the rest of the board.
Groves and board member Mark Gildea met as a committee earlier this month to develop a framework for the public discussion after months of delays had pushed the planning and the discussion itself back. Last summer, there had been talk of holding town-hall style meetings in the fall.