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State official bullies Mount Pleasant residents about water complaints

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MOUNT PLEASANT, TN (WSMV) -

If you complain about the quality of your drinking water, is that a citizens' right or a threat.

That's the heart of a disagreement between top state environmental officials and Mount Pleasant neighbors.

One official went so far as to say the local group's many complaints could be an act of terrorism.

Some families may sue over what's coming out of the tap and how much it's costing them.

The concerns started in January when Mount Pleasant officials told residents to start boiling their water because of worry about mud in the system.

But the family of 4-year-old Mia Boyd said the water was more than just unsightly, it landed their daughter in the hospital.

People in Mount Pleasant feel the state bullied and threatened them instead of answering their questions about the water.

Tonight the state is quick to apologize, but the issues and unpleasantness remain.

When little Mia Boyd contracted gastroenteritis, the battle was on.

The Boyds and others in Mount Pleasant accused the city of not notifying residents of water problems and pointed to three boil water alerts in the past two years.

That was just the beginning.

A town meeting about water quality and sewer rates between citizens and Department of Environment and Conservation took a nasty turn when Deputy Director Sherwin Smith suggested complaints could be considered an act of terror.

"Under federal regulations, if you make allegations against public water supply that are unfounded, then that can be considered under Homeland Security as an act of terrorism," Smith told those attending the meeting.

"I don't necessarily think they were scared, but you could see they were trying to use scare tactics," said resident Phillip Anderson, who attended the meeting.

Anderson said the meeting was full of senior citizens who instantly resented being associated in any way with terrorism.

Today, TDEC was quick to apologize.

"We certainly understand the concern surrounding the poor choice of words used by Mr. Smith," TDEC said in a prepared statement. "The department is working to address this issue and to provide broader customer service training for all employees."

Some say the apology is not enough for those he offended.

"I think he needs disciplinary action," said resident Carla Sowell, "because the word terrorism, in the world we live in today, that makes a big impact. It's hard to say that about people."

Beyond the poor choice of words, TDEC claims the Mount Pleasant water is safe, has always been safe and has never tested unsafe.

In fact TDEC said it will test anyone's water straight from the tap from anyone who requests it.

Copyright 2013 WSMV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.

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