A member of Mayor Sandy Stimpson’s administration was the person who complained to the Mobile County Health Department about downtown crawfish boils, an email released by the mayor’s office confirmed.
In a May 6 email to assistant health officer Susan Stiegler, Matt Anderson, a special assistant for Stimpson, wrote that a local restaurant owner had indicated there was a “considerable, unsanitary mess surrounding this entire crawfish boil site” at Hayley’s bar downtown. In the email, Anderson added the restaurant owner “described that the waste from the boil was dumped down a stormwater inlet on the street.”
“I wanted to pass this narrative along to you in order that you would have a written record of the event,” Anderson wrote in the email. “Thank you for looking into the situation, and if there is any way in which the city may assist, please do not hesitate to contact us.”
In a statement, city spokeswoman Laura Byrne wrote it is the duty of the mayor’s office to respond to complaints from citizens, which was the issue here.
“In this case, a local business owner contacted our office to voice his concerns and our office relayed that message to the appropriate entity, the Mobile County Health Department,” Byrne wrote. “This complaint was associated with an isolated incident, not the issue of crawfish boils as a whole.”
Byrne also wrote that Stimpson’s office recognizes “the beloved tradition of celebratory crawfish boils in Mobile.”
“It is our vision that crawfish boils will remain a distinctive part of our culture while still preserving the health of our community,” the statement read.
Delane Bond, co-owner and general manager of Hayley’s, said she was “floored” to learn the genesis of the complaint that essentially stopped most bars from being able to prepare crawfish boils was the mayor’s office, although she said she understands it’s the job of the mayor’s office to respond to complaints.
More alarming for Bond is the accusation Hayley’s poured any of the used boil water down the storm drain. In fact, she said, MCHD found no evidence of it on May 12, after inspectors measured the water level in the storm drain. Bond said the boil water was dumped in the kitchen of Pat’s Downtown Grill.
In an email message, MCHD Director of Inspection Services Stephanie Woods-Crawford, Ph.D., wrote that inspectors don’t check storm drain levels and, in this case, they intervened before any crawfish were cooked.
Bond said the crawfish were purged with salt and water from a hose and that ran into the street, but no boil water was ever disposed of inappropriately. Bond said she was told the purge water was toxic.
Woods-Crawford wrote she wouldn’t call the purge water toxic, but used the word “harmful” instead — although she added it could be toxic to “someone with a compromised immune system.” Under MCHD regulations, wastewater is considered sewage, Woods-Crawford wrote.
Bond said she requested a meeting with MCHD officials and the mayor’s office, but as of last week she hadn’t heard back. City spokesman George Talbot said Tuesday the administration would be open to meeting with the two sides, but he added, to his knowledge, they hadn’t heard from Bond.
While the regulations do not apply to fundraisers with a special-event permit or to church groups, it does apply to bars regardless of whether they charge for the crawfish, because they advertise the boils and use them to attract customers, Woods-Crawford said in a previous Lagniappe story.
Crawfish may still be served at venues without kitchens, but must be prepared in a health department-regulated kitchen.