Mike Woika sounded dismayed, perplexed, and just a tad angry as he worked his way through our post from last week about Boca Raton's water supply and a recent Notice of Violation handed down by the Palm Beach County Health Department.
-Boca Raton Utility Order to "Immediately" Fix Water Contamination Problems
Woika, assistant city manger, was adamant that not only is Boca's drinking water perfectly fine, but that Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility twisted the Health Department's words and exaggerated the violations to drum up hype.
The Notice of Violation wasn't triggered due to contamination issues or engineering shortcomings, Woika says, but rather because the city missed some deadlines to submit test results by a few weeks.
Woika took particular issue with allegations that the city failed to conduct thorough tests for lead and copper.
"Did we miss the deadline? Yes," he says. "We admit the tests are late. But that does not suggest that we have not tested for lead and copper. There has never been an issue with lead or copper in the waterlines."
As for the allegation about illegal chemical injection lines hooked up to the city water lines, Woika says this happened years ago and was due to a rogue engineer who took matters into his own hands. When the utility discovered the problem, it immediately removed the system and turned the guy into the state's board of professional engineers.
Woika says the fight over the proper check valves has been ongoing, and that the city has properly maintained the valves for years and replaced them when needed.
"I think the cross-connection thing is still totally bogus, but at some point you need to ask if it's worth fighting," he says. "Palm Beach originally said we needed to pay $50,000. And we said 'how is that possible...' Now they came back with this Notice of Violation and said we need to pay $2500. We still think it's ridiculous."
Among the challenges, Woika says, is that there's a constantly evolving rule book that starts at the federal level with the EPA then passes through state authorities down to county officials.
"The city spends $35 million on water operations," Woika says. "For PEER to suggest there's contaminated drinking water is so far from the truth."
Don't expect PEER to back down, though. The group has been hammering environmental agencies throughout the year with public record requests and formal complaints to federal agencies. It's fight with Boca is as much over the Notice of Violation as it is over a whistleblower suit involving Christine Ferrigan, a former utilities coordinator in the city for more than two decades.
A copy of the Notice of Violation can be found here.