The Ottumwa Courier

June 17, 2013

Lightning damages city communications equipment

Courier staff writer

---- — OTTUMWA — After lightning struck the water tower in Memorial Park, the public works department has been struggling to communicate with the city's pump stations.

In May, lightning struck Memorial Park's water tower, damaging nearly $20,000 worth of radio antennas, receivers, a repeater and other related equipment.

"It took awhile to get somebody down to look at the problem," said Public Works Director Larry Seals.

The damaged equipment means his department now has difficulty communicating with the city's 22 sanitary pump stations. Without a functioning communications system, public works staff can't remotely monitor and control any of the pump stations.

"We can usually see them all, and then we can control five of them from the plant, turning them on and off, usually when there are rain events," Seals said. "We used to have staff go around to every pump station every day through auto dialers, where they dial the plant to let us know if there's a high-level alarm. We would have somebody out there multiple times during the day. To cut down on the number of trips that have to be run to the remote stations, we could view them. If errors occur, we have to have staff run out ... and there are a multitude of things that can go wrong."

A pump station lifts water from sanitary or storm sewers from a low area to a higher area "where we can get it into the gravity line," he said.

"Some pumps run from a low point all the way to the treatment plant, and some simply de-water the line if it's over capacity," he said.

The city should be able to recoup around $9,500 of the total cost through insurance coverage, lowering the city's payment to $10,320.

Seals also noted that it wouldn't be in the city's best interest to purchase refurbished radios and equipment since it would be nearly the same price and may not even be available.

Also on the city council's agenda:

— Approval of a pay increase for Fire Chief Tony Miller.

— Consider the contract for the continuation of two school resource officers at Ottumwa High School and one school resource officer at Evans Middle School.

— Accept the donation of two pit-style toilets from the Wapello County Trails Council for Wayside Park and Sycamore Park.

The council will first meet in closed session at 5 p.m. tonight in council chambers at City Hall to conduct performance evaluations of City Administrator Joe Helfenberger and City Attorney and Human Resources Manager Joni Keith.

The council will then begin its regular meeting at 6:30 p.m. The meeting will air live on GO-TV, cable channel 6.

— To follow reporter Chelsea Davis on Twitter, head to @ChelseaLeeDavis.