Lebec water district opens with silent prayer

  • After reading a prepared statement, Lebec County Water District Board President Michael Hightower leads the public meeting in a minute of silent prayer and meditation. [photo by Gary Meyer]

    After reading a prepared statement, Lebec County Water District Board President Michael Hightower leads the public meeting in a minute of silent prayer and meditation. [photo by Gary Meyer]

Before leading a public agency meeting in a minute of silent prayer and meditation, Lebec County Water District Board President Michael Hightower asked that atheists and agnostics use their powers of positive thought, and that those beliefs are fatih-based, focus on the need for rain. [video by Gary Meyer, The Mountain Enterprise]

Fluoride exceeds state’s allowable level and $440,000 grant may be near

By Gary Meyer

Last month the directors for the Lebec County Water District (LCWD) voted to open future meetings with prayer.

Pray for Rain

This month, board president Michael Hightower opened the February 11 LCWD meeting with a call to stand for a minute of silence. He asked all—including “atheists or agnostics, with their powers of positive thinking” and those whose beliefs are faith-based, “with their prayers”—to focus on the much-needed resource of rain. [A video recording of the opening prayer can be viewed at www.mountainenterprise.com].

Report of High Fluoride

LCWD’s average fluoride levels from its Chimney Canyon well exceeded the state health department’s allowable maximum of 2.0 milligrams per liter (mg/L) from April 2013 through Jan. 2014, water operator Rafael Molina, Jr. reported.

Water customers received notice of LCWD’s 2.175 mg/L average level with the mailing of the January billing statements, he said.

The 12-inch Water Line

Developers Jeff French and Emilie Wainright said their lawyers continue trying to work through disagreements with LCWD’s lawyers. Wainright said the agreement for the public district to adopt the developers’ controversial private 12-inch water line was “unnecessarily complicated.”

Wainright asked the board to create a simplified version of a legal agreement to “move forward” to adopt the water line.

In December 2009 the private 12-inch line was constructed and then connected to the public water system by the developers and two Lebec residents without board approval. The developers’ goal was to provide an emergency water supply to the Holiday Inn Express hotel so it could comply with its franchise agreements and open by Christmas 2009.

The late Bruce Koch was LCWD board president at the time and Bob Karr was an LCWD director-elect. The two acted with the developers, without seeking board approval and without consulting the water district’s engineer. The Kern County Grand Jury also found that they did not follow the district’s own established procedures.

The line was constructed without permits from Kern County or the California Department of Fish and Game.

Documents and statements from the hotel builders revealed that the developers (who had sold the land for the hotel) had promised water would be available. Koch and Karr said publicly they were trying to help the hotel get opened for business.

The 12-inch line was installed across blue-line Cuddy Creek using heavy equipment in the creek bed to excavate, lay the pipe and cover it up, all without permits.

When the private line was connected to the public water system, existing customers had water pressure failure, which lasted through the Christmas week, leaving many homes without water supply through the holidays.

Just Trust Me

In 2013-14 meetings, current LCWD board vice president Tony Venegas claimed to have verified that the entire line had been installed properly. His evidence for that statement was a partial excavation in 2013 to reveal one properly-installed thrust block at an angle in the pipeline. He said he also installed a thrust block that was missing.

Venegas was unable to excavate and examine any portion of the line underneath Cuddy Creek due to lack of permits to work in the creek bed. At a public LCWD board meeting last year, Venegas offered dark, low-quality photos as proof that the under-creek portion of the water line is sound. Venegas said only that they were taken during installation of the 12-inch line in 2009, but no source for the photos was disclosed.

Get ‘er Done

Wainright recommended on February 11 that a previous water line agreement be used as a guide to “simplify” the problematic draft agreement for the 12-inch line.

Wainright and French said they will agree to “warranty” the 12-inch line, and asked that the requirement for them to indemnify LCWD be removed from the agreement.

Critics such as former LCWD board president Darren Hager have argued that any problem with the 12-inch line could cost the public not just for repairs but also for damages caused if a problem occurs. That is why indemnity by the developers is a protection to the public.

The 2009 document that Wainright offered as a guide is for a pipeline that was constructed legally, in accordance with the district’s procedures and which did not involve the complications caused by the way the 12-inch line was built.

The board voted unanimously to have district lawyers examine Wainright’s suggestions.

Soft-start Controller

The board approved a request by water operator Molina, Jr. for $12,000 to install a ‘soft-start’ motor controller on the State Well (east of Interstate 5 near Lebec’s Fire Station 56). A soft-start control improves stability of the power supply and reduces stress on the mechanical components of the pump.

Six-Figure Grant Coming?

A grant application made in 2011 may bring in more than $440,000 for water district improvements. An additional $100,000 may be added for inflation, LCWD employees said.

A recent financial survey showed Lebec’s water district population to be economically “severely disadvantaged.” This may mean that the funds will be a grant to the district and will not have to be repaid as a loan.

Next Meeting: The next LCWD public meeting is March 11, at 7 p.m. at 2037 Lebec Road.

—Additional reporting by Patric Hedlund

Photo caption:

Developers Jeff French and Emilie Wainright requested that LCWD use a previously-approved water line agreement as a guide to expedite the process of the public agency adopting liability and maintenance for their private 12-inch water line.

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This is part of the February 21, 2014 online edition of The Mountain Enterprise.

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