Tallahassee — The Palm Beach County Department of Health has agreed to settle charges against the City of Boca Raton for long-standing safe drinking water violations, according to documents posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Despite a case report documenting significant public health violations and recommending up to $100,000 in fines against the City, the settlement agreement exacts no fine or admission of wrongdoing by the City of Boca Raton Utilities Department which agreed to pay only $2,500 in court costs.
In contrast to the settlement, the County case report made damning findings, citing “serious concerns over the City’s ability to operate and maintain a drinking water system in compliance with federal, state and local regulations [for] ensuring that public water systems provide safe drinking water.” It details how the City –
- Knew for years about pressure violations in water lines and failed to notify authorities as required by law;
- Failed to implement cross-contamination safeguards to prevent waste water from entering drinking water lines and failed “to take immediate corrective actions as required…upon learning of the potential violations and cross-connections;” and
- Did not address an illegal chemical injection system hooked up to city water lines, contaminated wells, inadequate monitoring for lead and total coliform in the city’s drinking water.
The case report also stressed that “[t]he main concern is the City’s apparent ‘Cleaning of the Crime Scene’ before the [Health Department] can respond to a complaint or conduct an investigation. This type of behavior is unacceptable, is worst (sic) then (sic) the actual violations and needs to be corrected.”
“In spite of such damning findings, the County Health Department forfeited the right of Florida’s residents to punish the individuals who engaged in this misconduct. The settlement looks like a white flag of surrender in which the County settled for a public concession that Boca Raton must comply with safe drinking water requirements – something that should be a given,” stated Florida PEER Director Jerry Phillips, noting that Palm Beach began its investigation of Boca Raton four years ago this month. “While serious public health concerns were verified, it is unclear whether they have ever been resolved.”
The drinking water violations are also at the center of a whistleblower lawsuit against Boca Raton from Christine Ferrigan, who served as its Utility Coordinator for 23 years.
The settlement agreement, which became effective March 25, 2013, dismisses the County’s five-count Notice of Violation and contains no ongoing monitoring or good conduct requirements. The Boca Raton water system supplies 70 million gallons of water per day to approximately 128,000 customers.
“The pattern of denial, obfuscation and retaliation in Boca Raton is almost as disquieting as the drinking water violations,” Phillips added, pointing to the County case report finding that “The City’s position was ‘why monitor if all it can do is get us into trouble’” (Emphasis in original).