Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story was posted to TheSiuslawNews.com on March 27.
March 31, 2021 — The cloudy situation swirling around the Mapleton Water District (MWD) has cleared a bit after a community Zoom meeting held on March 24, hosted by the water district board of directors. More than 30 residents participated in the live stream which was facilitated by Board Vice Chair Dustin Basurto.
Basurto has stepped into a more pronounced leadership role in the district’s operations after the abrupt resignation of District Manager Terry Saubert.
Since last summer, there had been a growing dissatisfaction by some in the community with Saubert’s leadership and a lack of communication from the board to MWD customers. These were exacerbated by the recent arrival of unusually high-water bills for many residents.
One of the reasons Basurto and the remaining board members — Bryan Moore, Marilyn Fox and Linda Jensen — have agreed to remain on the MWD board was the need to navigate the district through another problem in what has clearly been a difficult year for residents and board members.
“First, the board would like to apologize for all the problems, and we hope to make this better as soon as possible,” Basurto said. “Westec (Tech Support) has been onsite and done some service, and the temporary system we have is working as well as can be expected — but we are going to have to have a new plant for the future. … I know this is a rough situation, but we have to take responsibility for what we have, and we have to figure out a way to move forward.”
One of the first ways the board has decided to move forward is by creating a Community Relations Team (CRT), which will be tasked with contacting district customers and discussing with them their specific situation in regard to their water quality, cost and needs.
There was also a clear acknowledgement in Basurto’s comments that there was a problem with the way the water meters in Mapleton had been read during the past year.
It was also stated at the meeting, in response to questions from those viewing live, that there would be no water shut offs occurring due to unpaid bills at this time.
The person selected to lead the effort to add transparency and clear communication to the workings of the MWD is Jim Grano, a Mapleton resident who has worked for many years as a volunteer with an array of local organizations, including schools, environmental projects and the Salmon and Trout Enhancement Program (STEP).
Grano was a participant at Wednesday’s meeting as Basurto announced the formation of the CRT and introduced him as the leader of the effort to improve district communication.
Grano was not willing to discuss the specifics of the tumult of the last year during Saubert’s tenure as manager, referring to it simply as a “Tendency towards confrontation, not communication” during an extended discussion of the MWD situation with Siuslaw News.
During Wednesday’s meeting, Grano spoke about his new position leading the CRT and MWD’s plans for the future.
“Our goal was to provide as much factual information as we had and to be as transparent as we could. And to show a pathway forward,” Grano said. “All of the bills will be reconciled, but we have a new office person and we don’t want her to be overwhelmed by the calls and the problems. So, (CRT) will be calling each of our customers to talk about their individual problems.”
Grano also echoed Basurto’s comments that the district has made mistakes but the recent change in leadership has allowed for more discussion and ideas about the difficulties faced by the MWD.
Without disparaging any previous district leaders, both Grano and Basurto believe the current members of the board do want to insure the delivery of clean, potable water to their friends and neighbors.
“After talking with Dustin, I realized I knew most of the board and I knew they were good, well-intentioned people. They only met once a month and, in retrospect, were not provided the information they needed to understand the situation,” Grano said. “So, I agreed to step in and help. I have some experience working with boards and I think that I might be joining the board, maybe by the time of the next board meeting. By then, we will have a better understanding of what we need to do improve the communication with the 240 users in the district.”
The meeting was well received by the online viewers, as the comments on social media platforms indicated over week. There was a general consensus that the meeting had begun the process of healing the community and those in charge of providing one of the basic needs of its citizenry.
The next meeting of the MWD Board is scheduled for April 13 beginning at 7 p.m.
Residents with questions or concerns can contact the MWD office at 541-268-4348.