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Dept. Of Health Urges Arkansas Flood Victims To Get Private Wells Tested, Fee Waived

For the majority of Arkansans, water quality is something the local water department has to worry about. But for roughly 150,000 private well owners in the Natural State, water quality is their responsibility and floodwaters can put that at risk.

The infrastructure of local water departments along the Arkansas River has certainly been put to the test during the state’s historic flooding.

“There was one water system near Toad Suck that lost some lines, they were submerged and they had to valve them off and those will be repaired later,” said Jeff Stone, director of the drinking water engineering section at the Arkansas Department of Health.

“There was another water system [Dardanelle] that did have a well that became flooded, but they had other sources to rely on,” said Stone.

Stone said most of the state’s water systems have back-up plans in place in case of emergencies, and the majority along the Arkansas River have planned their water systems to be able to avoid flooding.

“For the most part, their sources of – their well locations – are at higher elevations that have been able to escape a lot of the damage,” said Stone.

But for flooded homeowners on private wells, flood damage could be hiding underneath their yards, with potentially tainted floodwaters seeping into the well’s supply of drinking water. The process of cleaning and having a private well evaluated after a flood is somewhat lengthy.

“It starts with flushing the well once it’s running to where it clears up and you’re sort of pumping groundwater again,” said Stone. “Then you disinfect and you let the disinfectant sit overnight, and then you flush again and you sample and wait for the result.”

ADH is waiving the $17 fee for flood victims to have private wells tested for bacterial contamination. A water sampling kit is available for free at each of the state’s 75 local county health units.

While private well owners await test results, Stone suggests using “bottled water until they can get their power restored and get their well operating again.” Stone said to also be aware of potential electrical dangers when turning a flooded well pump back on.

The Environmental Protection Agency provides more detailed steps for emergency disinfection of private wells on the Department of Health’s website.

Health Executive Says He Bribed Arkansas Governor’s Nephew

LITTLE ROCK (AP) — A former health care executive admitted Wednesday to taking part in a conspiracy to bribe a former Arkansas lawmaker who is also the governor’s nephew, in a widening corruption probe that’s ensnared several legislators and lobbyists.

Robin Raveendran, 63, pleaded guilty before a federal judge in Missouri to conspiracy to commit bribery concerning programs receiving federal funds.

The former executive vice president of Preferred Family Healthcare said he and others bribed former Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson in exchange for the lawmaker backing legislative actions that benefit Preferred Family.

An attorney for Hutchinson declined to comment.

Hutchinson has pleaded not guilty to bribery charges in a separate case involving Preferred Family. He is among several lawmakers in Arkansas caught up in corruption investigations since early 2017.

Hutchinson is the son of former U.S. Sen. Tim Hutchinson and the nephew of Gov. Asa Hutchinson.

The plea was announced the day after a federal judge concluded a two-day hearing over Hutchinson’s efforts to toss separate charges that he spent thousands of dollars in campaign funds on personal expenses that included a Caribbean cruise, tuition payments and groceries.

Hutchinson has pleaded not guilty to those charges.

According to Raveendran’s plea agreement, Preferred Family paid funds to Alliance for Health Care, a private association formed by Raveendran, Hutchinson and Rusty Cranford, a lobbyist who pleaded guilty last year to bribing Hutchinson and two other former lawmakers.

Raveendran directed Alliance funds to Hutchinson in exchange for action on behalf of Preferred Family Health that included voting for legislation, holding up agency budgets and initiating legislative audits, according to the agreement.

A sentencing hearing hasn’t been scheduled for Raveendran, who faces up to five years in prison without parole. Under the plea agreement, he must pay $25,000 restitution to the government.

Raveendran was arrested last year on state felony charges of defrauding the state’s Medicaid program by $2.2 million. He was accused of coordinating an effort that reimbursed Preferred Family for more than 20,000 illegally billed mental health services.

“Raveendran’s plea based on his egregious criminal conduct underscores our decision to charge him initially for Medicaid fraud following our extensive investigation involving millions of documents,” Attorney General Leslie Rutledge said in a statement.