Don't Drink the Water

Page 7 of 7

So, in the eyes of the state regulator, it was Hoffman who was irresponsible.

In his defense, Mueller noted he had received no complaints about the water from sick Palm Aire residents. The regulator then agreed that anyone who may have become ill would have had no reason to suspect their tap water, especially since the problem was kept secret.

"We reviewed the records submitted by Pompano," Mueller said. "And the health department also does water testing each month around the county. Everything was in order."

I asked to see the September health department tests in Pompano. After perusing his files, Mueller conceded there were none. The only record he "reviewed," it turns out, was the chlorine test sheet with the four dubious test results from Weber.

At the Broward County Health Department were Pompano's monthly reports, all signed by Flaherty. Beginning in November, a "Membrane Plant Operational Report" was included that showed how many gallons of water the new plant treated per day -- the very record that Flaherty had told me did not exist.

The plant wasn't connected to the water supply until mid-November, nearly two months after the ribbon-cutting ceremony. Through December, it operated at only half-capacity, processing an average of about 5 million gallons per day.

Records show that the facility was shut down for three days beginning December 14. The reason: a 2,500-gallon sulfuric acid spill that was never reported to the public.

City sources told me the spill had been contained in a concrete and glass chamber where three 13,000-gallon tanks are kept. But it was the result of serious problems, including the failure of a computer-operated valve and a malfunctioning emergency alarm.

When I asked Flaherty about the spill, he insisted it was only a "leak."

"A 2,500-gallon leak?" I asked him.

"That sounds about right," he admitted without cracking a smile.

He adamantly denied that the valve had failed to close. "It just didn't properly seal," he said.

I asked him why the city never notified the public.

"If you spill something in your kitchen sink, would you consider that significant?" he asked rhetorically. "It was nothing."

Muniz, the engineer from Hazen and Sawyer, admitted, however, that the valve had been improperly installed and, indeed, had failed to close.

Flaherty was caught fibbing again, but he said the only dishonest ones are disgruntled employees like Fox and Hoffman. Both men, however, discovered irrefutable problems at the plant. Fox should have been promoted -- instead, he was drummed out of the city.

And Hoffman, who was never disciplined by the city and is involved in no litigation, wasn't disgruntled; he was simply outraged.

Hoffman quit the city in late October after landing a job as an EMT in the City of Plantation. But he still lives in Pompano. And he still cares about the safety of the water he and his neighbors drink. With officials like Hargett, Flaherty, and Weber in charge, he believes it's impossible to trust what comes out of the taps.

"All I want is to see the corrupt people be stopped," he says. "I just want justice for the citizens. That's all I want."

KEEP NEW TIMES BROWARD-PALM BEACH FREE... Since we started New Times Broward-Palm Beach, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of South Florida, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Journalist Bob Norman has been raking the muck of South Florida for the past 25 years. His work has led to criminal cases against corrupt politicians, the ouster of bad judges from the bench, and has garnered dozens of state, regional, and national awards.
Contact: Bob Norman