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Foul water fallout: water system director suspended 2 weeks, told to shape up

County manager says Fayette will challenge EPD sanctions

Fayette County Water System Director Tony Parrott received a two-week suspension without pay after state environmental assessors declared the county violated 10 safe drinking water rules and needed to correct 141 deficiencies in the water system.

County Manager Steve Rapson, in a letter outlining the discipline meted out to Parrott, characterized the water system’s problems in recent months as “systemic failures.”

The suspension will cost Parrott $4,555 in pay based on his annual salary of $118,444, according to county records. He was also placed on a 120-day probationary period.

Parrott and four other water system employees also face an investigation recommended by the Georgia Environmental Protection Division as to whether they “may have practiced fraud or deception,” or might perhaps be “incompetent or unable to perform their duties properly.” EPD has said it will submit a formal complaint to the Georgia Secretary of State and the State Board of Examiners for Certification of Water and Wastewater Treatment Plant Operators and Laboratory Analysts.

Rapson told the Fayette County Commission Thursday night that any water system employee who does not follow the corrective action plan outlined with disciplinary measures he handed down Aug. 23 faces further disciplinary action up to and including termination.

Rapson added that none of the water system problems ever made the water unsafe to drink, and that the county would challenge at least some of the findings in the EPD report.

EPD reviewed the entire water system in June following pervasive taste and odor problems that lingered for several weeks, forcing a number of restaurants to hand bottled water to their patrons and severely inconveniencing many Fayette residents who expect clean-smelling and good-tasting drinking water to flow from their faucets.

EPD ultimately blamed the foul water problem on operations at the Crosstown water treatment plant, specifically the continued use of recycled water from two holding ponds which contained backwash water from the filter cleaning process.

To rectify part of the problem, the county hired a contractor to remove sludge from those ponds, a process that had not been undertaken in a number of years.

Along with the two-week suspension of Parrott, Rapson gave a one-week suspension without pay to Assistant Water System Director Russell Ray, which will cost him $1,693 of his current annual salary of $88,070, county records indicated.

Parrott and Ray were each charged with a performance improvement plan that requires “creating or implementing” the following:

• A comprehensive communication improvement plan;

• A comprehensive corrective action plan for all violations and deficiencies outlined in the EPD report;

• A customer service improvement plan;

• Evaluation and updating of standard operating procedures; and

• A comprehensive capital improvement plan.

The county also gave two-day suspensions without pay to Assistant Water Plant Manager Bill Stephens and Plant Operator II Dan Harrison, while three other water system employees received written reprimands, according to records.

In addition to the foul water problems that began in May and lingered for several weeks, the water system in early August developed problems with high manganese levels in raw water that ultimately led to the temporary shutdown of both the county’s water treatment plants. A consultant who helped ameliorate the issue determined that the incorrect intake gate was used to withdraw water from the Lake Horton reservoir, and that laboratory staff failed to properly test for the higher manganese levels.

That consultant’s report blamed the Crosstown plant shutdown on the failure of the overnight plant operator to notice chlorination levels had dipped significantly due to an equipment failure in the chlorination process.

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