Killian water


Members of Killian’s Board of Aldermen are imploring the mayor to sign a contract with the water operating company they voted in favor of earlier this month, officials said in a special meeting Wednesday night.

The special meeting was held weeks after Board of Aldermen members said they approved a deal with Curtis Environmental to operate the town’s water system. Mayor Ronnie Sharp had not signed the agreement as of Wednesday night.

Sharp became the town's water operator after the previous company ended its partnership with the town in November. But Sharp informed other Killian leaders May 18 that his certification had expired, meaning the town was without a certified water operator, according to an email provided by Board of Aldermen members.

Sharp went on to say in the email that he entered into a monthly contract with another company to be the certified water operator “for now” — a move the three aldermen and roughly 30 residents at Wednesday’s special meeting criticized.

“We need everyone to be on the same page,” said alderwoman Kimberly Gill.

Wednesday’s special meeting marked the latest in a months-long quarrel regarding the town’s water system, which officials said serves around 420 homes and six businesses within town limits.

Earlier this month, the town’s water system received a “D” letter grade when the Louisiana Department of Health released its final 2022 report. The town had deductions in six of the seven grading categories, including state water quality, financial stability, operations & maintenance, infrastructure, customer satisfaction, and secondary contaminants.

The town scored a 65 out of a possible 100 in the LDH report — the second-lowest among Livingston Parish’s 29 water systems.

Three aldermen members — Brent Ballard, Brian Binkley, and Gill — called for a special meeting to discuss the water system after receiving Sharp’s email regarding his expired certification. But because a public notice had not been posted at least 24 hours ahead of the scheduled time, the aldermen said they had to type a notice themselves.

They posted the notice at 6:47 p.m. Tuesday, allowing for a 7 p.m. Wednesday meeting, Ballard said. But when town leaders and residents arrived for the meeting, the town hall building was locked, pushing the meeting back a few minutes before a key could be located.

During the 90-minute meeting, residents voiced their frustrations with the state of the town’s water system, with some directing their ire at Sharp for seemingly not working with the company the board approved. They also expressed concern with the repercussions the town may face for not having a certified water operator for all of 2023.

“Make sure to boil your water,” one person said.

Sharp did not attend the meeting, as well as two other aldermen. Sharp did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

‘Foul odors, stained bathtubs’

Ballard, Binkley, and Gill said concerns with the town’s water system have grown since the fall, when Sharp was elected mayor in a heated two-person race against Kenny Bayhi.

Bayhi had served as the town’s interim mayor prior to the election, being appointed to the post in March 2022 following the retirement of former Mayor Gillis Windham. During his nine-month tenure, Bayhi was able to secure the second-largest grant in Killian’s history — $300,000 in federal funding — to improve the town’s water infrastructure.

In a January statement, Ballard, Gill, and Binkley said the Killian water system “was producing sufficient quantities of potable water to the citizens of the community for bathing and human consumption” prior to the November 2022 election.

“Feedback from citizens indicated that the quality water was excellent, with no noticeable color odor or color,” the statement read. “Repairs to the system were handled quickly and professionally by the contracted water operator of the town, Boondocks Services.”

But things deteriorated after the election, officials claimed. After Sharp’s victory — in which he got 61 percent of the vote — Boondocks Services owner Chad Fagan ended his company’s services for the town. This came despite the board’s efforts “to bridge this divide” between Sharp and Fagan, the January statement said.

Sharp took over management of the water system following Boondocks' withdrawal, and problems began to surface, officials said. In their January statement, the aldermen cited a boil advisory in the winter that lasted two weeks “before being lifted with vague communication from Town Hall and the Mayor.”

But even after the boil advisory was lifted, residents complained of “numerous instances of water with foul odors, stained bathtubs, and water… not fit for bathing or human consumption,” the statement said.

“Since taking over the water system, the condition of the water system and the quality of the water produced by the system have steadily declined the opinion of citizens of the town,” the statement read.

‘You get what you pay for’

In its May meeting, the Board of Alderman voted 3-1 to enter into a one-year contract with Curtis Environmental. But in his email informing aldermen his water operating certification had expired, Sharp said the town was instead hiring JNH Aqua Services on a month-to-month basis “since they are within the budget.”

“They are willing to take over the complete water system for Killian, and will be the certified water operator for now,” the email, dated May 23, said. “Town cannot run the water without a certified operator.”

During Wednesday’s special meeting, residents and some of the aldermen took issue with the mayor “unilaterally” hiring a company not approved by the board — despite their approval of another company weeks before.

“If it’s that important that we get an operator immediately, what wasn’t it that important January 1 when he wasn’t in compliance?” Ballard said during Wednesday’s meeting.

Part of Sharp’s reasoning against Curtis Environmental, aldermen said Wednesday, was its price: The company proposed a monthly fee of $4,500, which is $1,000 more than what Boondocks Services charged and much higher than JNH Aqua quote. 

But Gill said Curtis Environmental’s services justified the higher costs, saying the company could get the town’s water system in compliance, put documents on a cloud server, and give the town access to 25 certified water operators, among other services.

During the special meeting, Gill noted Curtis Environmental’s 60 years in business, calling the company “the best choice for the Town of Killian to move us forward and move us to a higher standard of water certification.”

“Yes, it’s a lot of money, but it’s money well spent,” Gill said.

Gill also said she felt the town could accommodate the hiked price, noting that the town has saved money in recent months since it had not been paying for a water operator. She also said the town’s impending transition to a metered water system would bring it more money.

At one point, multiple residents in the meeting room repeated the phrase, “You get what you pay for.”

In Wednesday’s meeting, the three aldermen voted to give Sharp a 48-hour window to sign the agreement they approved with Curtis Environmental this month or they would seek a writ of mandamus to force him.

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