More often than not, media headlines and coffee shop conversations tend to be negative in regards to elected officials and various governmental departments. And while some of these remarks may be well earned by those who serve, allow me to share a little background into recent events which proved to be the exact opposite.
By now, the recent water emergency in Hamilton has been well documented. Newspaper coverage, social media and word of mouth have certainly served to spread the information. In fact, I have also used social media to keep Hamilton residents up-to-date on the most recent information regarding the unexpected turn of events.
As local constituents read these words, the issue will be fully in our rearview mirror. Clean drinking water will be flowing into homes and businesses served by the local water authority and much of the fear associated with the incident will be forgotten. What I want to be remembered for just a bit longer is the teamwork needed to address the issue full bore. This will offer readers a bit of insight to what was going on behind the scenes, as the developments expanded throughout the day on Friday, Aug. 25, and over the following weekend.
Learning of the event while walking the sidelines of a Winfield Pirates football game the night before, as I began my annual tour of watching each team in my district, I immediately departed the stadium to initiate telephone discussions with Hamilton Mayor Bob Page and Senator Garlan Gudger. By early morning, I was seated in the mayor’s office, along with several council members. Those who were unable to be in attendance joined the meeting by cell phone. Hamilton Water Works Director Rodney Williams was also in attendance, despite having just undergone major surgery on his arm. Within minutes, Williams was in contact with officials from the Alabama Rural Water Authority seeking ways for this agency to render aid.
Taking in advice from City Attorney Jeremy Streetman, the mayor and council approved an emergency order to lessen water usage at non-critical facilities across the community while empowering the mayor with the necessary purchasing power to maneuver the city through the coming days.
In short, all hands were on deck. Phone calls were being made to any and every agency who could possibly render assistance. So much was unknown, and the community was expected to be fully without water before midnight.
Immediately, I reached out to Governor Kay Ivey’s office, speaking with multiple officials representing various programs under her executive oversight. By day’s end, I had spoken with the governor’s representatives almost a dozen times seeking assistance and keeping her apprised of the developments in Hamilton. My conversations extended to officials with the Alabama Emergency Management Agency and the Alabama Department of Environmental Management.
Telephone conversations were held with Walmart management officials in Hamilton, who contacted the regional warehouse facility in Cullman seeking bottled water donations. The Alabama Southern Baptist Association and the RAMP Ministries in Hamilton rendered aid by having bottled water delivered to the community. Hamilton Councilman Scott Robertson used his connections in the trucking industry to make certain some of the donations were delivered to Hamilton from neighboring Mississippi.
I watched as council members Scott Tyra, Wade Williams and Ross Reed manned their personal cell phones making call after call seeking assistance wherever it could be found.
Downstairs at Hamilton City Hall, water department employees were manning the telephones accepting one call after another, either explaining what was believed to be unfolding or receiving an earful from disgruntled customers who were upset by the situation as a whole. I personally watched as these women fielded one phone call after another, with seemingly no break from the non-stop stream of calls.
The Hamilton fire and police departments were certainly doing their part, as was Marion County Emergency Management Agency Director Eric Terrell. He and I remained in contact numerous times throughout the day keeping each other up-to-date on what progress each was making.
What also proved encouraging was the fact neighboring communities from within Marion County and beyond were reaching out to see what they might do in order to assist. I received calls, as I know the mayor and others involved did, from community leaders and elected officials expressing concern. Word of our community’s issue had spread quickly and friends wanted to come to our rescue.
The Marion County Commission, mayors, city council members, fire departments, water departments and others reached out to see if they could donate water treatment chemicals to assist, send large containers of water, fire trucks or other such items to stand by our side in this time of need. Hamilton was hurting and our friends wanted to help.
In the midst of the turmoil, I was reminded how grateful I am to live, serve and represent rural counties. Our people are hard-working, God-fearing and tenderhearted. If they hear of a neighbor in need, they move into action. How blessed we are to live in House District 17, and in this case, Marion County.
To the shock of us all, water sample readings were coming back with lower contamination levels by late Friday afternoon. While we had been fearful the complete system would be drained and several days would be needed to restore full service, such was not the case. To be honest, I believe divine intervention played a role.
But in the end, what captured my attention the most was this: When a neighbor was in need, everyone in the area attempted to render aid. And within all levels of government—from the mayor and council, the commission, emergency management, water department, police and fire, state agencies, the governor’s office and mine and Gudger’s offices, everyone quickly aligned to form a team. And when the rubber meets the road, this is what mattered the most and allowed our residents to have clean drinking water as soon as possible.
Tracy Estes is Alabama House District 17’s state representative.
See complete story in the Journal Record.