City/Vanguard deny water meter accusations

Published 12:00 am Friday, June 10, 2011

The audience was audibly stunned and members of the city council and administration were visibly shocked to hear accusations made by Earl Clark Jr. during a Bogalusa City Council meeting Tuesday that some of the city’s new water meters were knowingly improperly installed.

Clark, now a resident of New Orleans but formerly of Bogalusa, said he was part of the Vanguard Utility Service of Owensboro, Ky. crew that made the faulty installations.

“We didn’t have the proper parts to install,” he said “A lot of (the meters) don’t have inserts… We were told when we ran out to use old parts or whatever we had.”

Clark held up an insert, which resembled a small blue plastic tube, on his finger.

“For two-and-a-half weeks we did not have this part,” but that did not stop installation, he said.

The individual water meter system will leak without the insert, Clark said.

“This whole thing is going to blow apart,” he said. “I know for a fact that many residences here don’t have inserts, and many have old parts that were re-used when they shouldn’t have been.”

Clark said Vanguard Project Manager Danny Saunders was “very much aware” of what was happening, and he did not tell anyone else because he wanted to keep his job. In response to a council question, Clark said he knew the council did not know about the situation, but they “should have.” He added that Vanguard regularly met with city representatives and that he believed “somebody had to know.”

Clark said he worked for Vanguard from July 6 through Oct. 31, and was ultimately “let go.” Saunders later chose not to comment on Clark’s departure from the company.

After the meeting, Mayor Charles Mizell said he knew nothing about missing inserts, but would look into the accusations. The following morning, Saunders and Bogalusa Director of Public Works James Hall strongly denied the charges.

Hall said he had Clark’s accusations checked out late last year after he told the same story to a Professional Engineer Corporation engineer charged with inspecting “what was put in.”

“He went to my engineer with this last October,” he said. “He looked at it and couldn’t find anything. I told him that.”

Hall said he has a daily log of when every meter was installed and who installed it, and could easily check meters put in during the late August through mid-September period that Clark said Vanguard was out of inserts.

“At about that time Danny (Saunders) did say he was fixing to run out of inserts, and could he borrow some from me,” Hall said. “I said yes. But he called and said his came in the next day.”

Hall explained that the inserts are made to go inside plastic pipes where they are joined to provide stability and to keep the pipe from collapsing when it is clamped.

In the case of the water meters, the insert is put “on the city side,” so that, even if one was missing or damaged, the system would leak before water got to the meter and the homeowner would not be charged, he said.

Regardless, missing inserts or used materials would have been noticed and reported by the PEC engineers, Hall said.

Saunders said that represented a “triple check” with the city overseeing and “PEC checking behind us.”

“There are not any (meters) without inserts,” he said. “And there are all new parts, according to the specifications of the city. All the parts are brand new. In that system, if you leave one part out you cannot put in the meter. The valve, meter, check valve are all needed for system.

“And the city never used meters before. There was no used stuff to put in.”

Vanguard inserts are made of metal, as Clark charged, but they are made of stainless steel and will not deteriorate as was alleged, Saunders said.

Additionally, “that piece has nothing to do with the functionality of the meter system. It’s for joining pipes,” he said.