Hearing on request for a temporary restraining order is scheduled for Friday, Aug. 4.

With what it contends is an impossible deadline to meet regarding the implementation of a new water disinfection system that does not utilize ammonia, the Hannibal Board of Public Works (HBPW) is turning to the legal system for relief.

Randy Park, president of the HBPW Board, announced Tuesday morning that the HBPW has filed a lawsuit in Marion County Circuit Court seeking a temporary restraining order to “enjoin enforcement of Hannibal Ordinance 4,751 which had been proposed as Proposition 1 through the initiative process provided for by the Hannibal City Charter.”

According to a press release issued by the HBPW, the “lawsuit seeks a ruling declaring the ordinance invalid and unenforceable because it is in direct conflict with state law ...”

A hearing on the HBPW's request for a temporary restraining order is scheduled for 3 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 4. The location of the hearing will be announced at a later date, according to the HBPW.

On April 4, Hannibal voters approved Proposition 1 which required the HBPW to stop the use of chloramines — a mixture of chlorine and ammonia — in the city's water disinfection process. Approval of the issue gave the BPW a 90-day window to discontinue the use of chloramines and implement a new process that produces results acceptable to the Missouri Department of Natural Resources (MoDNR) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Based on a proposal submitted to the HBPW by Black & Veatch Engineers the testing, design and construction phases, plus the time necessary for the MoDNR to inspect and approve operating the water treatment system, will require “two or more years to complete.”

Bob Stevenson, general manager of the HBPW, recently reported the deadline for completion of the water system conversion is in mid August according to the wording in Proposition 1.

Following its April approval by voters, Proposition 1 was approved and adopted by the Hannibal City Council on May 16. Shortly thereafter the HBPW notified the MoDNR of its intent to cease the use of ammonia in its disinfection process. On May 30, the MoDNR notified the HBPW that it could not approve HBPW's request to cease the introduction of ammonia into its drinking water system.

Consequently the HBPW found itself between a rock and a hard place.

“If the Board removes the ammonia from the disinfection process as required by Proposition 1, Board members could be subject to prosecution and fines and penalties for violation of state environmental statutes and regulations,” explained Park in a media release. “Also, certified operators that directly manage the treatment system will be subject to suspension or revocation of their certifications from DNR.

“On the other hand, if the Board complies with state statutes and refuses to remove the ammonia from the treatment process, Board members and employees operating the water treatment and distribution system will be subject to municipal fines or penalties. The Board and its employees are subject to fines or penalties whether they enforce the ordinance or not and the ordinance is unjust.”

With new and more stringent drinking water guidelines on the way in 2011 the HBPW hired a consultant to put together a list of options from which to choose that would meet the new federal standards. The HBPW Board, which consistently found itself in violation of federal drinking water standards beginning in 2012, opted to go with chloramines. The HBPW has been authorized by the MoDNR to utilize ammonia in the city's water disinfection system since Nov. 4, 2015.

The HBPW's legal action should not come as a huge surprise. In late February of this year, James Lemon, attorney for both the city and BPW, said he believed “that legal action will be required” if the proposition was approved.

In March of this year, Stevenson laid out some potential legal scenarios.

“The city goes immediately after the election to a judge to get an injunction against the referendum in whole or in part since the approved ordinance would put the city in violation of state regulations which in itself is illegal,” he said. “Having secured an injunction the HBPW would proceed in due pace to modify the treatment plant to incorporate GAC. During that four years we would plan to continue to feed chloramine as we are doing now.”

A city-commissioned study produced by Jacobs Engineering estimated the cost of a Granulated Activated Carbon (GAC) system as an alternative to the city's chloramine treatment process could cost between $9.3 million and $10.5 million, depending on how many millions of gallons of water the system will be capable of producing per day. Those estimates, however, have been disputed by GAC system proponents.

The annual operating costs of GAC system would range from $341,000 and $426,000.

Reach reporter Danny Henley at danny.henley@courierpost.com