By State Rep. Lundy Kiger
Veolia Water has been in Heavener for the majority of the past 25 years. Approximately 25 years ago I was called by the city manager who asked if I could bring the industrial water professionals from AES Shady Point to Heavener to see if we could help find out why their water was dirty. The dirty water had also made the news at that time.
Fast forward 25 years, and the water continues to have discoloration, turbidity and many issues. DEQ conducted a water treatment plant inspection in August 2019 that included taking water samples from homes, businesses and schools that revealed the problems at Heavener were as bad or worse as we had feared.
As a former environmental manager who dealt with state agencies and permitting, I read DEQ's final inspection report showing that Veolia was found totally incompetent, neglectful, deceitful, criminal, and in my opinion the company was in it for the money without regard to the health and property of the people and city. Veolia was fined by the state for $3 million.
Now, Veolia is wanting to pass on the cost of their incompetence onto the city and blame Heavener for not doing what Veolia was paid millions to do in producing clean and safe water. The city finally took the action they should have taken six months ago that residents called for in terminating the contract with Veolia. But regardless, the city has now done the right thing and needs to be bold in their next decisions and how they respond to Veolia.
At the HUA meeting last night, the one councilwoman who has a conflict with a relative running the water treatment plant for Veolia asked me in a public meeting if I would help the city negotiate the Veolia fine down in order to help the city.
My response paraphrased: "I will not help Veolia in anyway as they are solely responsible for the dirty water, harming the health of the public and destroying the property of residents and businesses. And Veolia has destroyed the city's water distribution system (water lines) over the years by running water with low Ph. If the city were to lose the threat of Veolia wanting to pass on the fine costs to the city and the city lost, I would do everything possible to help the citizens of Heavener, but not Veolia! But the city needs to take on Veolia and not pay for Veolia's mistakes"
Veolia was contracted and paid very well ($194,000 plus per month) for producing clean and safe water that meets all state and federal regulations. Veolia totally failed at doing this.
Veolia was contracted to provide qualified people at the water treatment plant capable of producing water in accordance with all state and federal regulations. Veolia totally failed at doing this.
Section 2.1 of the Contract: Veolia Water North America shall provide a sufficient number of certified and qualified personnel, including management, administrative, operational, technical, laboratory and clerical, who meet relevant State of Oklahoma requirements and certifications regarding water and wastewater treatment operations, maintenance and management and are capable and demonstrate experience necessary to operate the facilities covered by this Agreement.
After reading DEQ's final inspection report in September 2019, Veolia failed to test raw water coming into the plant; failed to test the water for required chemicals needed to clean up the water; failed to maintain equipment needed to monitor the quality of water; failed to calibrate equipment capable of providing correct data on water; failed to have the ability to measure chemicals needed to clean water to acceptable consumption standards; failed to maintain acceptable Ph levels that created corrosive water into the distribution system to the public; failed to show they could back-flush water to make clean water; failed to add acceptable levels of chlorine into the water leaving the water plant; failed to maintain the plant and equipment; and all technicians failed to recognize and identify alarms and set points or parameters for alarms when sounding showing when water chemistry is out of compliance.
Bottom line: Veolia failed, and now Veolia should be held responsible.
I'm not an attorney or chemist, but from what I read Veolia is totally to blame, and as I told city council members from Day One, Time is Up. Veolia is responsible and should be held accountable, and not the people of Heavener.
I'm thankful to the many people who stood up and said enough is enough. Many of them endured personal threats for taking a stand. But I'm also concerned for the hundreds who lost property and especially those who have been harmed physically from the dirty water that Veolia produced.
We will continue to place all blame related to any health issues squarely on Veolia, and I will do all that I can to see that all responsibility is placed where it belongs – on Veolia.