The McAlester city water plant is short-handed.

However, it is still staffed by licensed personnel 24 hours a day, according to McAlester City Engineer George Marcangeli.

“It’s staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year,” Marcangeli said. “It’s never left unmanned.”

Employees are currently working double shifts to ensure the plant is always staffed.

“We’re short operators so they’re doubling up,” Marcangeli said. “They’re doing double shifts to take care of it.”

Marcangeli confirmed the Department of Environmental Quality made a surprise inspection of the water plant on Wednesday.

“Someone reported to DEQ we were operating without a licensed operator,” Marcangeli said. “He went out and confirmed that we did have a licensed operator on duty.”

Marcangeli said the plant is currently staffed by five licensed, full-time operators.

• Bob Lozano, who is acting as superintendent, lab tech and chief operator, has a class A water plant operators license and a class B lab license.

• Operator Chris Black has a class B operator’s license and a class C lab license.

• Operator Benny Schoggins has a class C operator’s license.

• Plant Mechanic Freddie Lewis has a class C operator’s license and a class C sewer plant license.

• Operator John Jarrett has a class D operator’s license.

“David Gray has been sent over temporarily from the Utility Maintenance Department,” Marcangeli said. “He’s going out there Thursday and Friday and some next week because he’s already licensed as a water plant operator.”

Gray has a class D license.

Only one unlicensed employee, Alan Harvey, is currently employed at the water plant. Marcangeli said he is currently training with Lozano and only works under the supervision of the superintendent and licensed operators.

Marcangeli said he sent the paperwork for Harvey’s temporary DEQ license on Thursday.

“As soon as we can get him to a class we’ll get him a class D license,” Marcangeli said.

Marcangeli was unsure when the next class is scheduled.

Licenses are based on hours of DEQ training and experience in water plant operations. Class A requires five years experience and 200 hours of DEQ training. B is three years experience and 100 hours of training. C requires 36 hours of training and one year of experience.

Class D requires 16 hours of DEQ training and no experience. Operators must also pass a test administered by DEQ each time they upgrade their licenses.

DEQ Customer Services Division Manager Judy Duncan said the plant must be supervised by an operator with at least a class B license.

“The overall supervision of the operation must be under a supervisor with at least a class B license,” Duncan said.

However, this doesn’t mean that a class B or above operator must be on duty at the plant 24 hours a day.

“It means the overall operation has to be supervised by a class B or above,” Duncan said. “They don’t have to be there all the time, but they’re ultimately responsible.”

Lozano is charged with this responsibility.

Duncan said DEQ has 30 licensed water plant operators on record as working for the city of McAlester, significantly more than the actual number.

Marcangeli said the city has nothing to hide, it was only a simple miscommunication.

“We’ve never had that many employees at the water plant,” Marcangeli said. “We’re only budgeted for eight employees.”

Marcangeli said past employees who have quit the water plant are still on the DEQ roster, and the city recently received an invoice from DEQ for license renewal fees for some of these employees.

“We had to call and explain to them these people no longer worked at the water plant,” Marcangeli said. “There was a record keeping problem somewhere, I don’t know if it was on our end or their end.

“What we probably need to do is get a list from them and help get that updated.”

Marcangeli said despite the hiring freeze, the city will be hiring two more operators to fill the open positions.

The positions will first be opened to applicants who already work for the city of McAlester.

“If we have anyone interested and qualified in another department, we’ll move them to the water plant and have an opening in another department,” Marcangeli said.



Contact Trevor Dunbar at tdunbar@mcalesternews.com

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