June 11, 2010

Health Board questions closing fountain

The city shut down the Laurel Clark Fountain over health concerns. Now they're researching if those concerns are founded.

The city's Health Department started testing the fountain's water quality this week, Public Health Commissioner Dottie-Kay Bowersox told the Board of Health on Tuesday.

The tests drew some attention from Board members, who peppered city staff about the need to close down the fountain. Dr. William Little, Dr. John Berge and Dr. Mohammed Rafiullah all raised questions about closing the fountain.

Rafiullah asked if the city could use alternatives to chlorine to treat the fountain's water. Chlorine is corroding the fountain's pipes and damaging its pump.

Marcia Fernholz, director of environmental health, explained the state does not recognize alternative methods for treating water.

Little wondered if the water even needed to be treated. He asked how the city could make a decision without testing the water. That led to a light, but somewhat uncomfortable, exchange with staff. Little said Lake Michigan water isn't treated, and Fernholz replied that the fountain's tank is much smaller than the lake. Little then said that water exposed to the sun is naturally treated.

No action was taken on the issue.

City staff talked about police and the Parks and Recreation Department enforcing the ordinance to keep kids out of the fountain. Some people have ignored, or not seen, signs saying the fountain is closed.

Alderman Bob Mozol said the police should issue tickets to the kids' parents to send a message. Alderman Jim Kaplan said it was an issue of personal accountability.

No word on when the water tests on the fountain will be made public. Even if the water is clean, it's likely the city won't change its decision because of state law.