HBPW calls press conference to explain need for judge's ruling

In exactly two weeks representatives of the Hannibal Board of Public Works (HBPW) will attempt to convince a judge that it needs “mercy” in regard to deadlines and possible fines it will be subject to mid August. On Thursday, Bob Stevenson, general manager of the HBPW, felt the time was right to comment on the lawsuit the HBPW filed on Monday in Marion County Circuit Court.

In discussing the HBPW’s ongoing water-related legal woes, Stevenson referred to Monday’s filing as its “third lawsuit,” but quickly added that “we don’t really think of (it) as a lawsuit, but a legal procedure we have to go through, but we did file a petition.”

Lawsuit or not, the HBPW’s objective during the Aug. 4 hearing at the Marion County Courthouse in Hannibal is clear – have a “judge to help us figure out which law we need to obey because we cannot obey both, because they are in conflict.”

“Right now our board members are being required to violate the law, which goes against their own oath of office and they cannot do it,” said Stevenson. “We’re asking a judge to give us mercy on the 90 days and give us mercy on the fines.”

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. Voter 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).

“We told them (Proposition 1 ordinance writers) then and we’re telling them now we can’t meet a 90-day deadline,” said Stevenson on Thursday, praising Black & Veatch Engineers for its pace of work since the HBPW hired it this spring to work on the water system conversion which is expected to take roughly four years to complete.

Short of going to court the HBPW felt it had few options left.

“We’ve attempted to meet with the City Council to discuss alternatives and options and have been rebuffed on everything else we have tried. This is all that’s left to us that we can figure out,” said Stevenson, adding that the MoDNR told it not to turn off the ammonia.

How long will it take before a ruling is rendered?

“I have no idea,” replied Stevenson. “Our lawyers suggest we may have to wait quite a while for a ruling, like weeks, maybe.

“We don’t even know what judge it’s going to be (presiding). We’re thinking if we ask a local judge, a Hannibal resident, to make this ruling it’s going to put them in kind of an awkward spot maybe with their neighbors. We think it is entirely possible another judge will be brought in from another county to hear the case. We don’t know. It’s out of our hands. All we can do is put the petition in and wait.”

If the judge grants the temporary restraining order, Stevenson hopes that progress can be made at Hannibal City Hall.

“Once the 90-day requirement is gone out of the petition nothing else is really left,” he said. “At that point the City Council might be invited to or be interested in replacing that ordinance with one that will be enforceable. They have not expressed any interest to do that … yet.”

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