Mayor calls contamination scare 'a bunch of hooey'

Ledge Light Heath District Deputy Director Stephen Mansfield tests the water Friday in New London's Whale Tail fountain on the Parade. The fountain was turned on for a short time to perform the test. Story, F1.
Ledge Light Heath District Deputy Director Stephen Mansfield tests the water Friday in New London's Whale Tail fountain on the Parade. The fountain was turned on for a short time to perform the test. Story, F1.

New London - Mayor Martin Olsen isn't afraid of the possibility of a little contaminated water.

When the whale tail fountain at the foot of State Street begins flowing again sometime in the next few days, Olsen said Friday, he's going to be the first to run through the water cascading off the whale's flukes.

"I think it's a bunch of hooey,'' he said, referring to a week's worth of discussion and debate over the safety of the water in the fountain after a homeless man was discovered last Friday washing himself off in it after soiling his pants.

"One guy acts badly and the whole thing gets blown out of proportion," Olsen said, as he joined a couple of dozen people Friday at the Parade for a farmers market and lunchtime entertainment.

During the two weeks the fountain was running, barefoot children, and even an adult in a wheelchair, cooled themselves by passing through the spray. But the water was shut off Monday after the filter became clogged with debris.

At a City Council meeting Monday night, a resident called the fountain an $11 million bathroom, referring to the amount of money that was spent renovating the Parade plaza, which included the 7,000-pound whale tail fountain sculpture. It was followed by news stories that spread across the state, the region and even went international.

On Thursday, the city announced that after testing by the health department the fountain would be turned back on sometime in the next several days but that no one would be encouraged to run through it.

"As a water fountain, the public is not permitted to enter the Whale Tail water, nor drink or bathe in it,'' according to a news release issued by City Manager Denise Rose. "It is not designed or intended to be operated as an interactive attraction.''

But Olsen, who is running for mayor in November, said future use of the fountain has "yet to be determined."

Councilor Michael Buscetto III, who was the first to question the quality of the water and alleged that there have been incidents of homeless people urinating and washing off cuts in the whale tail water, was also at the Parade on Friday.

"I think this is a great event,'' said Buscetto, who is also running for mayor. "The more people we have down here, the better."

Buscetto has said he would bring two requests from the City Center District to the council: that there be a full-time police presence at the Parade and that an ordinance be passed that would help police keep people from sleeping on benches and spreading their belongings around the plaza.

On Friday, police said the incident one week earlier was the only call they have received about inappropriate use of the fountain. A week ago, the fire department responded to a man who had fallen on the Parade and was bleeding from a head wound. But that fall did not take place near the fountain.

The controversy did not deter vendors who returned for the second week of the "Field of Greens" farmers market. Previews on Parade, which features entertainment, also returned for a second week with a performance by the a capella group Kapriol'!

Don Hess of Valchris Farm Organics of Oakdale, who was selling his home-grown asparagus and flowering stems of garlic, said he enjoyed seeing kids running through the water last week and did not think the fountain posed a public health threat.

"At least it made people aware of what's going on,'' he said. "If it happens again, the people of New London will take care of it."

Sam Fritzsche, market manager, said as more produce ripens the market will offer more variety and activity will pick up. He said the man-in-the-fountain incident appeared to be a "big to-do.''

"It's not about the Parade or the fountain,'' he said. "The bigger issue is how we take care of our homeless people."

He is organizing high school and college students to help him at the Friday market to educate the public about fresh produce and eating locally grown products. He said he welcomes anyone who is homeless to attend the market, learn about eating more nutritious foods and partake in free samples.

"I want the homeless here at the Parade,'' he said.

k.edgecomb@theday.com

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