Water goes off at midnight

Published 12:00 am Saturday, September 9, 2000

ERIK SANZENBACH / L’Observateur / September 9, 2000

LAPLACE – At midnight tonight LaPlace will be without running water, and itwon’t be running again for at least 24 hours, according to the St. John theBaptist Parish officials.

And parish officials have been busy preparing, collecting water supplies forvarious needs, both public and residential.

According to Frank DiCarlo, director of the public works department, waterwill be shut off to the LaPlace area because workers have to replace a worn-out pump at the Ruddock well, which supplies over 75 percent of the drinkingwater to LaPlace. Workers will also relocate a water main to an area nearthe well where the parish is constructing a new storage tank. Both theseprojects will take 12 hours to complete with both work crews starting at thesame time. The remaining 12 hours will be relegated to cleaning,repressurizing and purging the water system.

“We have been needing to do this for a long time,” said DiCarlo. “We have toreplace this pump before it totally breaks down.”

DiCarlo has said in the past the pump, designed to run only 12 hours a day,has been running 24 hours a day for the past several years and is very nearto total failure.

He did say there would be one major benefit to the inconvenience of going 24hours without running water.

“We will have more water flowing into LaPlace once the repairs are done,”said DiFranco.

Bertram Madere, director of Civil Defense, said the parish is ready in the fireprotection department.

Schneider Truck Lines has donated four tanker trucks with 8,000 gallons ofwater each to be used for fire protection only. They will be parked at thePercy Hebert Building on Airline Highway.

Two other water trucks are being loaned to the parish from St. CharlesParish and the St. John airport, Madere said, giving the fire departmentenough water to fight 10 fires.

Also, each fire station in LaPlace will have a two-man crew on duty during the24 hours.

“We will be able to answer any fire call within five minutes,” said Madere.

The Reserve and Garyville volunteer fire departments will be answering callsin the LaPlace area also. In total, there will be 18 fire trucks available tohandle any fire call in LaPlace on Sunday.

Madere said the 9-1-1 operations center will be fully manned the entireweekend with two additional people on standby.

Chris Guidry, St. John Parish chief administrative officer, said Gov.MikeFoster has signed a declaration of emergency for the parish, which allowsthe National Guard to come in and help during the water shortage.

There will be four National Guard tank trucks filled with potable waterstationed at the old Winn-Dixie shopping center on Airline Highway. Over20,000 gallons of drinking water will be available there.

Also three 500-gallon water trucks will be stationed at the Twin Oaks NursingHome, Place Dubourg and at the Sherman R. Walker Correctional Center sothe elderly and parish prisoners can have water.

DiFranco said for those families which really need water, there will be anAbita Springs water truck at the Percy Hebert Building on Airline Highwaywith 1,800 gallons of drinking water. Abita Springs Water is giving the waterto the parish at a very discounted price.

On Saturday afternoon part of the Reserve water system will be switchedover so River Parishes Hospital will get water, and Belle Pointe will also havewater during the 24-hour emergency.

On Friday at 4 p.m., St. Charles Parish diverted some of its water andconnected up with St. John’s system to keep the integrity and pressure ofthe St. John water system. This was done so that when the new pump goeson-line Monday morning there will be no time delay in re-pressurizing theentire system.

“We plan to minimize the disruptions,” said Guidry. “And this inconveniencewill result in upgrading and making our water system more reliable.”

All this does not appease area businesses, such as restaurants and bars,though.

The St. John Parish Health unit sent out notices to all restaurants and barsin the LaPlace area that they must shut down for business Sunday.

Ken Dolhonde, chief sanitarian for the parish, is very specific about theorder.

“The Sanitary Code of the state of Louisiana plainly states that hot and coldrunning water is mandatory to operate these businesses,” said Dolhonde. “Wewill deal with any violations of the code with appropriate action. We hope thatpeople will realize that the public’s health could be endangered by violators.”

Dolhonde said he knows of only three places that will not be affected by thewater shut down, the two bars in Manchac and Bully’s Halfway House on U.S. Highway 51. According to Dolhonde, these businesses have their own watersupply and will not have to close.

Dolhonde said he has already received many complaints from restaurant andbar owners in LaPlace.

“I understand their frustration,” said Delhonde. “Sunday is the biggest dayfor these restaurants. Some of them are going to lose a lot of money.”

Parish President Nickie Monica has been speaking to the LaPlace businessesaffected by the water shortage, and he said most of them understand whatis being done and some of them are coping.

“McDonald’s is staying open,” said Monica. “They will have portable toilets andbottled water and they will serve canned drinks.”Delhonde said bars can open if they do two things. First, they have to getportable toilets for the customers, and secondly, they can sell only cannedor bottled beer.

“Maybe they can also sell daiquiris if it comes out of a machine,” saidDelhonde.

Anything pre-packaged, such as found in grocery stores and conveniencestores, will be able to be sold on Sunday. However, Delhonde said meatcounters at the grocery stores will not be allowed to be open for business.

And when the water comes back on, there will still be problems. The parishhas to send samples to be tested to make sure the water is safe to drink.

Guidry said they hope to minimize the delay in testing.

“The samples will be tested right away. The state has agreed to accept theresults of a lab right away,” said Guidry.

Even so, Delhonde said he cannot guarantee the safety of the water until thestate tests the samples, which could take 24 hours after the system isturned on.

Therefore, Delhonde suggested people boil their water for at least fiveminutes before using it. He said this would be voluntary.

Safe water will also be a concern for the St. John Parish School Board. GladeSchool, LaPlace Elementary and John L. Ory will be affected by the water cut-off.

Madere said School Superintendent Chris Donaldson will call him at 4 a.m.

Monday, and Madere will tell Donaldson if the water system is up and running.

From there, Donaldson will put on Channel 55 whether or not the threeschools will open Monday.

Madere said all the private and parochial schools with the exception ofAscension of Our Lord will follow Donaldson’s lead and either open or close,according to what the public schools decide to do.

Monica is urging everyone in LaPlace to minimize their water use on Sundayand conserve as much water as possible.

Despite the inconvenience, Monica said the alternative would be worse.

“If we don’t fix the system now, the alternative is a week to 10 days withoutwater, which would cause a public health crisis, ” said Monica. “If everybody inthe community cooperates, then we can open the schools on Monday. This isthe time for the community to pull together.”

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