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Mr. Sheridan's colonia

San Antonio Police cars blocked the private road at both ends, nobody in or out at 6251 Culebra Road as investigators from the City's Code Compliance and the San Antonio Water System conducted the great raid on the La Isla neighborhood in February 20-aught five.

There weren't any gang members dealing crack and clanking their bling-bling into the wee hours. No gambling house with eight-liners spinning monthly retirement checks into economic oblivion. The residents in the eight houses on the hill near the corner of Culebra and Oakhill weren't operating a meth lab in the garage.

Nope. Their crime was domestic in nature. They were drinking the water from a well owned by the Philip J. Sheridan Water System.

Mendoza also says inspectors told her that because the residents "are Hispanic," and that three of the families are from México, they are probably used to the bacteria in the water, and therefore
would not get sick.

Yep. The very same Philip J. Sheridan of Brackenridge Park concessions fame, who also owns the Sheridan Water Co., sole supplier to about 25 mostly low-income residents of the La Isla neighborhood.

Code compliance cops and SAWS inspectors found a water well that had gone untreated with chlorine for four-and-a-half years, even though the eight households had paid Sheridan $10 apiece per month for at least 13 years to maintain the well, which draws water from the Edwards Aquifer.

The houses that were built in the 1950s were never platted. There were only two septic systems in 1986, several years after the city annexed the homes. More houses and septic fields were built after Sheridan bought the property in 1986. Today, those septic systems are leaking, with a pool of septic water beside the private road, which Sheridan charges $20 per month per household to maintain, and the cracks in the pavement have never been fixed. The pool, a scant 12 feet away from where a toddler plays in his front yard, reportedly contains fecal particles.

SAWS, after the great raid on February 11, said "don't drink the water." Code Compliance cited electrical wiring and overloaded breaker boxes that threaten to burn the residents alive as they sleep. And, SAWS has demanded the residents get hooked into a 6-inch water main at a cost of $10,000 apiece - years after the City has collected property taxes.

Bexar County doesn't blink at the price tag for putting in water and sewer lines along Applewhite Road for the Toyota Tundra manufacturing plant. They even threw in a four-lane highway and a new bridge over the Medina River, all for little more than $29 million.

But the low-income residents in the La Isla neighborhood have to cough up $80,000 to hook up to City sewer and water.

Ernestine Cevallos bought the three-bedroom house at 6251-1 Culebra Road in 1995. She suffered a heart attack a few months after the great raid, and doctors found a bacterial infection in her stomach. Her daughter, Leticia Mendoza, had to get treatment for a bacterial infection in the stomachs of two of her children. A neighbor, Ramona Ornelas, discovered that her late husband also had an infection, which Mendoza attributes to the Sheridan Water Co.'s failure to treat the water well over the years.

Phil Sheridan's bean counter, Steve Grieder, has been the only contact the residents have with the water company. Grieder said on Monday he would pass an inquiry for comment along to Sheridan, who has not met with the residents.

Only last week did the company hire a maintenance firm to treat the well water, but the residents still won't drink it. Residents say the company poured Clorox bleach into the water treatment cylinder that was only recently installed on the well. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality has provided the water supplier a list of things to do to prevent sewage from spilling into the well.

Leticia and her mom, and their neighbors, will not drink the water. "We have to buy bottled water for cooking and drinking. Ramona went without water for two days because she could not afford it (she lives on her widow's pension)."

Mendoza also says inspectors told her that because the residents "are Hispanic," and that three of the families are from México, they are probably used to the bacteria in the water, and therefore would not get sick.

Sonny Torres, chief of staff for District 6 Councilwoman Delicia Herrera, says his office is looking after the residents in Mr. Sheridan's colonia on Culebra Road. "They are our No. 1 priority."

Leticia will believe it when she sees it. "If it wasn't for me and my big mouth, nothing would ever have been done about this."

Meanwhile, Ernestine hopes her house doesn't burn down while she sleeps.

By Michael Cary

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