By JACKSON WILSON
Coal Country Times/Macoupin County Enquirer~Democrat Reporter
The community of Gillespie was live on Fox 2 News St. Louis July 19.
As many may have guessed, the “You Paid For It” headline of the day was water contamination issues that residents have been dealing with off and on for years.
When the discoloration worsened in many areas after the Fourth of July weekend, the community had grown so frustrated that it jam-packed a July 11 city council meeting and voiced displeasures for nearly an hour prior to notifying the Fox News station.
What intensified matters even further was that the Gillespie Water Department (GWD) had said that the supply was not dangerous despite it being ‘a bit off-colored.’
A ‘fed up’ Michelle Dunaway told Fox 2 News reporter Elliott Davis that her bill was between $130 and $150 a month for water in which she was unable to use.
“I have to go to the grocery store and buy water to cook with and for my children to drink,” Dunaway said during the live July 19 interview. “It is not safe.”
Dunaway also stated that the murky water interfered with her ability to do laundry.
“It stains clothes,” Dunaway said. “If I do any white clothes or lights, I have go to the neighboring town that has a different water supply just to wash clothes.”
Davis visited the GWD, which reportedly handles water for roughly 10,000 people in all, to speak with Gillespie mayor John Hicks and plant operator Dave Pickett about the issue that took a turn for the worse after the department’s analyzer stopped working.
“I think this is just a bad situation that’s going to get corrected,” Hicks told Davis. “We’re working on it.”
When asked about the equipment malfunction, Hicks said that an otherwise simple fix became complicated due to human error.
“We thought we had a second one,” Hicks said. “That hadn’t been replaced like it should have been. That wasn’t Dave’s fault. It was a prior operator.”
Pickett, an experienced individual in which the city recently brought on board, described the situation as “a real headache.”
Instead of cutting off the supply or issuing a boil order, the GWD opted to let the water flow while searching for a solution.
“My first thought was, ‘Holy cow. How do you not notify the residents that you’re unable to even analyze the water at this point?” said Melinda Barber, another ‘fed up’ resident.
According to Hicks, the city is making progress in restoring the quality. However, even though the effective machinery has been replaced and the water has reportedly become clearer in some places, this isn’t the case everywhere just yet.
“The water in Gillespie does look a little better but if you run it through some paper towels, you can see there’s still a brown shade to it,” Barber said. “My son calls it ‘apple juice.”
Hicks said he was unsure when the ordeal will have completely passed, but long-time residents like Dunaway were no longer taking that as an acceptable response.
“I’ve lived in my house for almost 17 years and this is horrible,” Dunaway said.