HANNIBAL, Mo. — Citing concern over the safety and health of its customers and staff as it relates to the COVID-19 outbreak, the Hannibal Board of Public Works Board announced Monday the decision to delay eliminating ammonia from the city's water treatment process.
HBPW Board member Stephan Franke said the decision was made recently.
"The decision was made based on information from a quickly changing and evolving global pandemic. It has not been under consideration for a while," he said.
According to a media release issued Monday afternoon by the HBPW, increased monitoring and a change in water quality will require more staff to be in contact with the public, as well as other staff members. The HBPW Board is concerned that these interactions could result in customers and staff being unnecessarily exposed to the coronavirus.
"We're not making decisions based on social media comments," Franke said. "There is nothing we take more seriously than the health and safety of our employees and the public."
"This was not an easy decision, but one that was made acting in the best interests of our employees' and the public's health," said the HBPW's Interim General Manager Mathew Munzlinger.
The HBPW Board said it is acting in accordance with instructions given by Mayor James Hark to take all necessary steps to protect the utility's customers and staff.
Franke said the city council's input was sought.
"Council was consulted and the majority advised to comply with the ordinance deadline," he said. "The (HBPW) board of directors decided instead to protect the health of our employees. Therefore if our staff got sick and was in quarantine when an emergency strikes, the whole city would be at risk. As shared on the HBPW Facebook page, our staffing guidelines and precautions are in line with current industry standards nationwide."
The HBPW Board will be closely monitoring developments regarding the COVID-19 outbreak, as well as conferring with others in the water industry and regulatory communities to determine the date when the transition to the granular activated carbon (GAC) water treatment system will be completed.
"The (HBPW) board was appointed by the council to make these decisions," Franke said. "We have every intention of turning the ammonia off as soon as we can do it safely. Just not in this critical time when confronted with an unprecedented pandemic."
Since the Revised Proposition 1 was adopted by the Hannibal City Council in September 2017, the HBPW has been focused on meeting the April 1, 2020, deadline. While the project is not 100 percent complete, it has reached the point where the HBPW could turn off the ammonia feed and begin running water through the carbon media-filled vessels. The transition was anticipated to take place about midday Tuesday.
Munzlinger acknowledged that it is disappointing to have worked so hard to meet the deadline only to have the water system conversion postponed.
"We were looking forward to showcasing the hard work that so many have put into making this new process possible," he said. "Ultimately this delay is out of an abundance of caution to protect the health of our staff and customers. There is nothing we take more seriously than the public health of our community."
Once the changeover to GAC occurs, additional testing will need to be completed both at the water plant and out in the distribution system. This will reportedly require additional staff to be in the water plant, including outside contractors and consultants.
While the water system conversion will not occur as planned, additional work at the new facility in Riverview Park will be taking place.
"To date the contractor's focus was on meeting the deadline to complete the transition," Munzlinger said. "Now that they have been able to meet this deadline, they will continue to complete other aspects of the contract that do not impact the operation of the GAC process. This includes some cleanup items that would be less noticeable, but it also includes more noticeable aspects such as final grading, completion of the new concrete driveway and seeding."