Mayor Wayne Bennett says the discipline and dedication of his military training has been put to the test this past week.
The naval veteran hasn’t been able to get much rest since malfunctioning pumps stopped providing his town’s residents with a reliable source of drinking water more than a week ago.
The town declared a state of emergency Jab. 29 after its water supply pumps stopped filling its reservoir with water the night before. The order was initially set to expire Thursday morning, but was extended until at least Saturday when issues getting water flowing to taps in town persisted.
After meeting with his fellow town officials and others trying to bring a final resolution to their water woes, the town announced Saturday the state of emergency will continue until at least Feb. 12.
“We are not taking any chances,” he said. “We have parts coming and (inclement) weather coming. Once we’re satisfied we have a reliable system, we can relax it. Until then, we won’t relax.”
Water has been flowing through one of the town’s two pumps since Thursday, but the system still has to be constantly monitored and more work is needed to ensure the system’s reliability.
Bennett has been doing some of that monitoring and many other tasks associated with it. He said he hasn’t been sleeping much since the ordeal began, but admitted he finally hit the proverbial wall Friday night.
“I can’t go to sleep when my town and my residents are in danger,” he said. “I guess that’s the military training in me coming out, but I just can’t.”
Materials to help fix the problem were en route from Western Canada and St. John’s, according to an update on the town’s Facebook page Saturday afternoon.
The plan was to place a submersible pump, which has already been delivered to Howley, into Sandy Lake. When this pump is operational, the water supply’s main pump will be taken out for service and repairs.
Bennett urged residents to remain patient and to continue working together towards solving the town’s water problems. That includes conserving water and staying away from the pumphouse area while work is going on there.
Last week, both Premier Dwight Ball, whose electoral district of Humber-Gros Morne takes in Howley, and Municipal Affairs Minister Eddie Joyce said the provincial government would help Howley do whatever necessary to restore a reliable water supply.
While Bennett said the town will hold government to that commitment, he was disappointed Joyce had not talked to him directly and, in a post on Twitter, even called for Joyce’s resignation.
Joyce did call and speak with the town’s fire chief about the water situation Thursday.
Joyce was baffled at Bennett’s remarks when contacted Saturday. He said his department has been involved since the situation began last week and he called the Howley town office Thursday morning, but Bennett was unavailable at the time.
Joyce said he gave the town clerk all the necessary information the town needed to apply for emergency assistance from the government. He said he also gave her his contact information and told the town to contact him directly if it needed anything, including a visit in person.
Joyce said he called the fire chief that night to personally thank him, and all of the town council, staff and volunteers, for doing their part in addressing the situation.
“I have no idea where any of this is coming from,” Joyce said of Bennett’s criticism.