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Akeley water scare over following two days of drama

Akeley's don't-use-the- water warning - necessitated by a cut lock and open door at the municipal water tower Monday night - was lifted by 4:25 p.m. Wednesday, the council subsequently agreeing to look into a security system for the building.

City maintenance supervisor Frank Thelin drove by the tower at about 5 p.m. Monday and found everything in order. But when he drove by at 7 p.m., on his way to check on pond water he was transferring, he found the door open.

He contacted council members - Troy Hegg and Terry Chalich arriving - and the Minnesota Department of Health and the Hubbard County Sheriff's office, per protocol. He notified radio stations on the possible contamination as well as First Response members.

Tuesday, at the direction of the Department of Health, city officials went door to door with a "Do Not Drink Your Water" advisory.

Meanwhile, he'd "isolated" the water tower Monday night; water to Akeley residents began running off high-pressure pumps and the well. "It was fine, initially," Thelin said. But at 5:30 a.m. Tuesday, he found a valve leaking, water running into the street. The leak was isolated and repaired.

But Akeley residents were reporting a noticeable drop in water pressure. "When the clear well goes down to three feet, it shuts down," Thelin said. The Department of Health received another call from the maintenance supervisor.

The incident was responsible for "three situations within 24 hours," he said of the strongly-worded warning, leaking valve and low pressure.

The lock on the building was never found, he said, despite a thorough search of the grounds.

By the time the council convened Wednesday evening, "everything was working properly," the council agreeing a security alarm for the water tower is in order.

The incident remains under investigation by law enforcement.

In other action, the Akeley Council:

n Agreed, in response to the water tower break-in, to a mutual aid agreement with MNWARN, as recommended by Minnesota Rural Water Association.

Under the agreement, the city may request assistance in the form of personnel, equipment and supplies from a utility outside the governmental unit in the event of an emergency.

n Approved spending up to $12,000 for an audit by the state in the wake of resignations by clerk-treasurer Denise Rittgers and deputy clerk Susan Larson Clark.

Mayor Jennifer Mitchell said the audit is at the recommendation of the state.

n Approved clerk-treasurer Sebrina Hegg's salary at $16 per hour, with a 24-hour per week schedule. Robbi Gack was approved as deputy clerk at $13 per hour, based on a 22-hour week.

n Announced an Akeley meet-the-candidate forum will be held at 7 p.m. Monday, Oct. 15 at the Akeley Regional Community Center. The event is hosted by the Akeley Chamber.

n Tabled hourly wage increases for police officer Jimmy Hanson, from $15.45 to $15.75 per hour; maintenance supervisor Frank Thelin, from $15 to $15.25 per hour, and Herb Young, from $10 to $10.50.

Council member Brian Hitchcock suggested tabling the motion until the final levy is approved.

n Approved the proposed levy of $223,534 for 2013, the amount nearly $18,000, 8 percent, less than 2012's $241,448.

n Received a letter from Don and Kathy Wicks on the delayed progress in painting the Paul Bunyan statue.

"Since Paul has been roped off, we have watched cars slow down, pull up, and then pull away," the letter states. "No more stopping, getting out, getting some pictures, coming over for ice cream and supporting other businesses, as well. They just go on to the next town or tourist attraction."

The letter expresses frustration with the lack of communication by council members with businesses, with the exception of Troy Hegg.

The delay, Mitchell said, is driven by insurance through the League of Minnesota Cities.

"In a legal process, you can't ask for the work to be finished," Mitchell said. "We are obligated to do things legally," adding the city hopes to hear from the League on the matter next week.

"We are not neglecting the issue," she stressed.

n Agreed to match a donation of $550 with the Lions to repair concrete on Paul's Patio, at a total cost of $1,100.

n Learned the city's Christmas decorations are being renovated.

"We'll have Christmas this year in Akeley," Chamber president Kristin Mattson-Fake said.

n Agreed, at the request of Mattson-Fake, to pressure wash the former depot building so Chamber members can complete the painting project.