City Council approves two utility issues

STEUBENVILLE — Members of City Council approved two emergency utility ordinances Tuesday evening, but made it clear they’re out of patience waiting for figures on which to base plans and rate increases to save the city’s water and sewer systems.

Council approved allowing HDR Engineering to design the replacement for the sewage treatment plant’s secondary aeration system, one of six major sewer system upgrades required by the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, and bidding for construction on a new water main servicing the Pilot truck stop and Tidewater River Rail terminal south of state Route 7 off Third Street.

The aeration system could fail within two years and would result in the city dumping raw sewage into the Ohio River and fines of up to $25,000 a day from the OEPA, according to Water and Wastewater Superintendent Chuck Murphy. The water line project is to replace a temporary 2-inch line serving the truck stop and transportation terminal to provide better fire protection service in the commercial and industrial area. Murphy noted that by having the design for the sewer plant equipment done now, the city can pay for it out of the sewer fund and won’t need to borrow that portion of the total estimated $3.5 million project.

Fourth Ward Councilman Scott Dressel asked Murphy a number of questions and repeatedly told him council wants Finance Director David Lewis to have a list of what is required for the water and sewer systems with rough estimates so that Lewis can make financial plans for council to consider, including rate increases.

“We have been asking for this about forever. Let’s just do it. I don’t know how to be more clear,” he said. Dressel contended the city knows the major work it needs to do in the near term and can figure all infrastructure always will need to be upgraded and replaced on a schedule, but the decision to start can’t be made without the initial list of projects and estimated costs.

He told Murphy that unless Lewis is given some list of projects and estimates on which to base financial plans, “we will talk about it over and over again, the same conversation we had six weeks ago and six months ago. You’re doing fine, but you just need to give him (Lewis) something. If you don’t, you’ll get no funding and nothing will be getting fixed and it won’t be this council’s fault. We need the information.”

Under questioning by Sixth Ward Councilman Bob Villamagna, Murphy said the list of what the OEPA wants done was included in a notice of violation letter that council had received months ago.

Dressel said, “Take that list and what we know we need in the next five years, give it to Dave with relatively good estimates — and if you do not have one, get one — figure out the costs so we will know how to spread it out. We will not vote on a rate increase until we get that.”

Murphy and City Manager Jim Mavromatis promised the information will be in council’s hands next week.

Mavromatis emphasized that until he has something in writing, he doesn’t consider the city as having a $7 million loan from the OEPA for critical water valve replacement, though the agency has notified him the loan will be approved, with half of it being forgiven for repayment.

He said the OEPA wants dates for projects on a consent decree being negotiated and dates can’t be provided if the city doesn’t have the money to do the projects when they’re due.

First Ward Councilman Gerald DiLoreto said, “I hope it’s the final meeting next week. We have done enough talking. We know we need to raise the rates, that you (Murphy) need more help, we need to have public meetings. We want to vote on this at one time only. We don’t want to end up like another Flint. I’m not going to be here, but I have the responsibility for another year and a half. This has gone on too long.”

Murphy said the design for the South Third Street-state Route 7 water main is complete and approved by the state EPA. He told Councilwoman at large Kimberly Hahn that part of the project is saving for future re-use a costly 20-inch water valve that was installed in January to enable a broken main to be shut off and allow water to flow to the downtown again after a 12-day outage.

In other matters:

¯ Hahn is seeking volunteers to help get the baby pool cleaned and painted to be put into service this summer at Belleview Park. She said a pump needs to be fixed and there are no broken water lines, so the baby pool can be fixed.

¯ Sixth Ward Councilman Bob Villamagna asked if sanitation crews can be used to help fix street openings that were made to fix broken water lines. There are more than 80 patches in the city. He said putting the sanitation workers on a four-day route schedule was supposed to free up manpower for helping the street or recreation or other departments. Mavromatis said the issue is billing the work to the water fund for the street opening repairs because it wasn’t included in the 2018 budget, and the availability of the workers.

¯ Retired judge and former city law director John Mascio said the city is not crack sealing streets, which prevents further damage, especially in the event of another harsh winter.

“Historically, the city fixes something and then does nothing to maintain it. You have an obligation to take care of those streets and it isn’t being done,” he said.