Riviera city manager suspended over water issues

Posted at 11:28 PM, May 04, 2016
and last updated 2016-05-05 10:48:05-04

After another marathon session of debate and angry public comment, the Riviera Beach city commission unanimously voted to suspend city manager Ruth Jones for 30 days without pay Wednesday night. It's the latest fallout from our Contact 5 Investigation into problems with the city's water system.

Since the story first broke there's been plenty of anger and finger-pointing but there's been little discussion on resolving the problems. Contact 5 sat down, exclusively, with the new head of Riviera Beach's water utility to discuss exactly that.

"What do you think is the most important step the utility can take right now?" asked Contact 5 Investigator Jared Werksma.

"Right now we're doing daily monitoring of the distribution system," answered Giles Rhoads.

Rhoads is the assistant executive director of the water utility but his boss, Lou Aurigemma, was fired following our first Contact 5 Imvestigation. Now Rhoads is in charge of the city water utilities' day-to-day operations.

He says water crews are working overtime to ensure chlorine levels meet minimum standards across the city. We ran into one of those crews on the southwest side of Riviera Beach, where water problems have been the most severe, on Tuesday.

In fact, Contact 5 obtained records from the Department of Health showing water in Riviera Beach's Bermuda Circle neighborhood tested positive for bacteria during every test in January and February and again failed to meet standards in March.

"How significant is that?" Werksma asked.

"It's a concern. It goes hand-in-hand with the chlorine concentrations being below the standard," Rhoads answered.

Even though city water crews have been all over the Bermuda Circle neighborhood, everyone we spoke with who actually lives there was still unaware of any water concerns. This, despite the fact that the department of health has already fined Riviera Beach thousands of dollars for failing to notify the Bermuda Circle neighborhood and many others of bacteria in the water since January.

"How have they not been notified yet?" asked Werksma.

"Currently the utility district is in the process of sending out notifications to the public," Rhoads answered.

"Should people trust that the water they're drinking is safe?" Werksma asked.

"Yes they should," Rhoads answered. "The processed water is safe to drink."

Rhoads says there are plans to install a chlorine booster on the city's southwest side near the Bermuda Circle neighborhood where water problems have been the worst. That project should be complete before the end of the year. Rhoads also says water tests in April showed no sign of bacteria. Contact 5 will be following up with the department of health to confirm those results.

Riviera Beach City manager Ruth Jones will begin her 30 day unpaid suspension Friday. City commissioners say they plan to hire a third-party to come in and investigate who knew what and when about the city's water problems during that time.