Chloramine issue to be decided by Hannibal voters

A final decision on the use of chloramines as a disinfectant in the city's water supply will be made by Hannibal voters, rather than the City Council, which on a vote of 4-2 failed to give a first reading to the Hannibal Safe Drinking Water Chemical Use Reduction Act during Tuesday night's meeting at City Hall.

Melissa Cogdal, one of three people to speak in favor of the ordinance, admitted her disappointment following the meeting, which attracted a standing-room-only crowd.

“I'm heartbroken,” said one of the people who had worked since April to gather enough signatures to bring the matter before the Council in the form of an ordinance. “I feel like I lost tonight, but I know that I didn't because I have an amazing community behind me. I put in a lot of hard work on this and I guess in a way I was a little tired so I wanted it to be passed, but I'll be there for the ballot the same way I was here tonight. In the end we'll get our clean water and in the end I'm going to make sure the Board of Public Works pays for it.”

Whether or not to take up the ordinance was a point of discussion among the Council.

Mayor Pro Tem Kevin Knickerbocker said if the truest form of the democratic process was to be followed the matter should be decided by a vote of the people, especially since it could greatly impact their future utility rates.

Councilman Jim Van Hoose cited the appearance of inconsistency on the part of the Council, which was willing to allow citizens to decide the chloramine question, but would not give voters a chance to determine the fate of the riverfront marina, another multi-million dollar issue.

Councilman Kevin Lionberger felt the Council needed to take up the matter and be “accountable,” rather than pass the decision along to voters.

Voting in favor of giving the ordinance a first reading were Van Hoose and Lionberger. Opposing the first reading were Mayor James Hark, Councilmen Mike Dobson and Jamie Locke, and Knickerbocker. Councilman Gordon Ipson was absent.

According to City Clerk Angel Vance, the public vote on chloramine usage will have to take place not less than 30 days or no more than one year from Tuesday's Council vote. She noted that putting the matter on the March ballot would add an expense of from $7,000 to $10,000 that is not budgeted.

The final certification date for items to appear on the Tuesday, Nov. 8, ballot is Tuesday, Aug. 30.

Along with Cogdal, Hannibal resident Kellie Cookson and Robert Bowcock, a water treatment professional, addressed the Council. Cookson urged the Council to take action before “more lives are endangered.” Bowcock, who warned that chloramine use could have environmental and infrastructure impacts, reported the cost of converting the city's water system to something different has been overstated.

Councilman Dobson reported having recently spoken with a 45-year professional engineer at the Missouri Department of Natural Resources. He was advised that switching to granulated activated carbon would be “expensive” and would take time since studies would have to be conducted and a new building constructed.

City Attorney James Lemon said if the ordinance is passed time is one thing the Board of Public Works would not have, explaining it would have a 90-day window to discontinue the use of chloramines and implement a new process.

“I felt like I had really worked with the Council and the mayor on the issue of 90 days,” said Cogdal. “This is a city ordinance. Those fines are going to be assessed by the city and could have been waived very easily by the city in order to go ahead and ensure clean water.”

Following the meeting Mathew Munzlinger of the BPW declined to comment on the Council's action. Also present was BPW Board President Randy Park, who did not offer any remarks during the meeting.

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

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