The Leadwood Board of Aldermen met last week and fielded more angry questions from residents regarding the water project that has been ongoing for almost a decade.
Leadwood is in the throes of using a federal USDA loan, plus a state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) grant to be put toward the loan, and it’s coordinating with Taylor Engineering to be sure its infrastructural plans for replacing the water system are compliant with DNR’s requirements.
Over the course of the project, the people in the elected mayoral and aldermanic seats have changed, and unlike many of the other, slightly larger cities in St. Francois County, Leadwood does not employ a city manager to navigate large municipal projects without the distraction.
According to the meeting’s minutes, residents Robert McGuire and Danielle Mercer spoke to the aldermen with their concerns about the perceived lack of progress on the water project.
McGuire, according to the report, asked the board for an update. Alderman Charlie Lewis told him the city has met with representatives from the DNR and USDA, as well as the project engineer, and “we only know what they tell us.”
Alderman John Vickers told McGuire the city had received a letter that day from DNR asking 15 questions that needed to be answered by Taylor Engineering within 15 days. Water Supervisor Kevin Brooks added he intended to work with Engineer Tim Robbs to come up with the answers as soon possible.
Lewis, according to the minutes, said citizens’ calls help move things along, and later implied the tardiness of the project was due to engineering delays. Mayor Ed Austin said he has been in talks with representatives of DNR and USDA, and paperwork was recently turned in for the water project which will comply with bids out this winter and construction in the spring.
Brooks said he had been in touch with a chief engineer from DNR, who indicated they are in process of approving Leadwood’s water project. Resident Robby Crump asked if the project included the original plan of using Leadwood water instead of piping it in from Park Hills, and the alderman assured him it did. Last winter, aldermen voted against working with Park Hills on water delivery, although they indicated DNR has suggested it still be considered as an option. Doing due diligence and researching the engineering feasibility of the Park Hills option also prolonged the project.
According to the meeting’s minutes, resident Danielle Mercer told the board she spoke to State Rep. Mike Henderson, R-Desloge, regarding the project, as well as other officials. She said she was told the grant will expire next March.
Austin clarified the grant can be rolled over if necessary, if the appropriate paperwork was filed to get an extension. He said he hoped the project would stay on track so the extension wouldn’t be needed.
Mercer claimed she also spoke to Claire McClaskill, who has not represented Missouri in the U.S. Senate since January 2019, and said McCaskill had thought the project was already done. Mercer said she just wants clean water and fixed roads.
Mercer asked if the engineering firm could be charged with fraud, “since they have not produced,” according to the meeting minutes. Reportedly, members of the board assured Mercer the process of working with two governmental agencies on a massive, municipal engineering project is a slow one, but incremental progress is being made.
Brooks provided a brief history of the water project, saying it had begun in 2014 but the direction and scope had taken several turns over the last eight years. COVID-19 reportedly took a toll on the progress, as well as the detour time taken to research the Park Hills option. The city is on its fourth mayor, and the members serving on the board have shifted names and faces.
Brooks said he feels approval is about to happen and they’re drawing closer to breaking ground.
Resident Blake Childs brought up water rates. Mercer said the current flat rate, strongly encouraged by USDA as a means of making sure the loan could be paid, was unfair and penalized smaller households while rewarding larger households.
Austin said the new system’s water meters will better gauge the usage and charge residents accordingly.
In other news, the board:
- Certified the April 5 election results and swore in Vickers and Penberthy, with Alderwoman Sheila Wisdom to be sworn in at her next availability. Lewis was voted as mayor pro tem.
- Adopted the 1-cent sales tax ordinance April 5 voters approved to augment public safety budgets.
- Heard a police department update from Chief Emily Portell, who said there were three reports and two citations for last month.
- Voted to retire slain Bonne Terre patrolman Lane Burn’s badge, from the years when he worked for Leadwood Police.
- Discussed tree trimming at the City Park, as well as removing Bradford Pear trees.
Sarah Haas is the assistant editor for the Daily Journal. She can be reached at 573-518-3617 or email@example.com.