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Emotions simmer over boil notice mix-up

Lindrick Services Corp. owner Joe Borda said Wednesday that his company sent out a boil water notice after a power outage from Hurricane Jeanne stalled the utility's water pumps.

That's news to many of his customers.

Ruth Riley, an office assistant for the Gulf Harbors Civic Association, called the utility Tuesday to find out whether residents needed to boil the stagnant water trickling out of their taps _ a standard precaution to kill the bacteria that can breed when the water pressure drops.

"The woman (who answered the phone) said if the person was uncomfortable with the smell or the color of the water, they should boil it, but they never said it was mandatory to boil it," Riley recalled Wednesday.

After reading a Pasco Times article Wednesday about the lack of a boil water notice to thousands of Lindrick customers, Beverly Schubis called the utility to ask whether one was necessary.

"She said the county and the media are hyping that up, (and that) you do what you want but you don't have to (boil the water)," Schubis said.

Schubis said most of her neighbors at the New Port Colony Villas are in their 70s and 80s.

"They need water to take their medicine," she said. "If they don't know it's contaminated, they could end up sick. That's not fair."

Utilities manager Helen McNeil told the Pasco Times on Tuesday there was no need to issue a boil water notice, as the system maintained some pressure and the water still was chlorinated. After the article appeared Wednesday, however, the utility sent a boil water notice to local media outlets.

"We did maintain some pressure, but the health department requires us to give a boil water notice," McNeil explained Wednesday.

But Borda insisted the company issued the notice after the power went out Sunday. How did they get the word out?

"Through Channel 9 news," Borda said. "That's the only media, the only method by which we were able to get it out."

What about people who didn't see the broadcast because of the power outages, or don't even have cable TV?

"That's a Catch-22, because you can't mail it to them," Borda said of his customers. "It's an emergency."

He added: "It is common knowledge when you're shut down like that, that you need to boil the water."

Why did his own employee tell customers otherwise?

"I have no idea where that came from," he said.

The widespread power outages from Jeanne created a bind for utilities that rely on power to keep their water and sewer pumps running. Many used generators to keep the taps flowing. Others who lost pressure alerted their customers to boil the water before using it for drinking or cooking.

Many Lindrick customers said they had no water for a day or so, then a trickle came out of their taps. Perhaps most frustrating for them, Lindrick could have restored water sooner by linking to the New Port Richey water system on an emergency basis. City officials said they would have helped out, but Lindrick never asked.

Borda said he called the city Monday, but didn't hear back until Lindrick's problem was nearly fixed Tuesday. He also said he has reached out to the state Department of Environmental Protection, the state Public Service Commission, the Southwest Florida Water Management District and the county for help with the utility's water pressure problems.

"Where was everybody?" Borda asked. "DEP, the PSC, Swiftmud, the county _ everybody was notified to come to Lindrick's rescue."

He declined, however, to say whom he contacted at those agencies or the nature of the discussions.

"I don't want to get into that right now."

Steve Reilly, an associate with the Office of Public Counsel, which represents utility customers, is pressing for a long-term solution for the utility's problems.

"They are going to have to have a reliable backup power (supply) or reliable backup sources of water to be able to respond to crises like this," Reilly said.

Bridget Hall Grumet can be reached in west Pasco at 869-6244 or toll-free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 6244. Her e-mail address is bhallsptimes.com.

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