WEIRTON - The first phase of a multi-million sewage system upgrade in the city's north end is well under way, Utilities Director A.D. "Butch" Mastrantoni said Thursday.
That work, being done by James White Construction inside ArcelorMittal facilities along County Road, involves laying about 4,700 lineal feet of gravity sewer to route sanitary flow from roughly 1,000 structures along Pennsylvania Avenue and nearby neighborhoods up old Main Street to the 5th Street Lift Station.
The lift station is on mill property.
Phase II will take the sanitary flow from the lift station through a new 16-inch main all the way to the Freedom Way treatment plant 26,000 lineal feet away a little under six miles where it will be properly treated and then released into the Ohio River.
The work was necessitated by the discovery two years ago of abnormally high levels of fecal coliforms in what was supposed to be industrial process water. Fecal levels had always been monitored by millworkers, but it wasn't until the steelmaker began removing unneeded structures in the north end and their industrial runoff volumes diminished that they realized the numbers were out of the norm.
Notified of the problem, city officials immediately contacted environmental officials to report the problems. Because of that the city was not fined, though it is under a consent decree to get the repairs done. Phase I must be done by Dec. 13.
To pay for the upgrades, rate will go up. To finance Phase I, rates jumped 66 cents to $3.61 per thousand gallons. For Phase II, the rates will go to $4.19 per thousand gallons.
Mastrantoni previously said they'd spent nearly $200,000 during the past three years to treat the discharges off-site. That expense will be eliminated once the project is in place.
Board member Tom Smarrella, meanwhile, told Mastrantoni he's been asked several times why city residents, not the steelmaker, have to pick up the tab for Phase I since the problem is on mill property.
"When we found it there was no longer any Weirton Steel," Mastrantoni replied. "So who do you go after?"
He said, too, that it's unclear when the changes were made that caused the problem, or even who did it.
"In years past, the only thing that was important was Weirton Steel and the town made the decision that there'd be no building permits, no going behind the gates," he said, adding that was part of the rationale for the "in lieu of" tax agreement that existed with Weirton Steel.
He said it's likely that someone at some point "tried to make a more usable system" by taking existing lines and merging them with new lines.
"When we had 100 million gallons going through (the system) nothing showed up," he added. "As (industrial) activity slowed, now you can see the bacteria."