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Jefferson County commissioners weigh Smithfield sewer options

STEUBENVILLE — The Jefferson County Commissioners again had a discussion about the Smithfield sewer system and the Environmental Protection Agency’s concerns with plans to upgrade the plant.

The topic has been a recurring matter of discussion as the county reviews options for the troubled system.

The county, which has taken over the water system in Smithfield, is operating the sewer system but does not own the plant, which currently is owned by Smithfield Township.

Hindering the start of a complete takeover and more than $3 million project to revamp the system are what the commissioners and water and sewer Director Michael Eroshevich say is a moving goal post from the EPA on ammonia levels.

Eroshevich said he and Walt Kubat of the department recently had an operations meeting with the EPA to detail what improvements have been made, are underway and what improvements are contingent on the plans.

In initial discussions with the EPA, the commissioners say they were led to believe getting the system in working order with upgrades would be acceptable, but have since been told the project would not meet new ammonia level requirements.

“Where we’re at is we need to make a determination whether or not we’re going accept possession of the property of the plant and, if we do that, move forward with the project,” Eroshevich said.

According to Eroshevich, that is due to the way the current system is constructed. He said building a new plant that would be in compliance with what the EPA now wants would be between $7-10 million, more than double the cost of the current proposed improvements.

Eroshevich recommended sending a letter to the EPA formally requesting variance during a period of time.

“If they approve it, we can perhaps move forward with the project,” he said. “If they don’t, we have to either spend more money on that project or it’s not going to meet the criteria.”

He noted that an original proposal to build a new plant was around $7 million.

Commissioner Dave Maple said his concern with at that time was that cost being put on the county’s existing customers.

“I like Mike’s strategy of sending them a letter, it’s proactive,” he said. “A lot of times with the EPA, it’s been more informal and I get that. But, I think sending them a formal letter saying, ‘here’s our project, can we get a variance?’ Even if it’s a time variance, say 10 years, for us to get in compliance. Sending them formal correspondence requesting a variance seems strategically sound.”

It was noted by Commissioner Thomas Graham that the current state of the system is not the fault of the county.

“Let’s be clear about a couple things — one, this is not a problem the county created,” he said. “This is a problem that Smithfield, at the time, did not fix, just like they didn’t fix their water situation. The county came in and rescued their water situation, now we’re being asked to rescue the sewage situation.

“If we’re going to do that, we have to be sure whatever the safety protocols are … we don’t want to violate anything that is going to make it safe – no one is saying that – but we have to make sure what needs to be done in terms of safety is done if we take this over.”

The commissioners approved several invoices from Arcadis, the county’s water and sewer engineering consultant firm, and in doing so discussed the departure of Tom Hartwig from the company, who worked with the county on several key projects in recent years.

“I definitely wish him the best,” Maple said. “Our county saw a lot of positive improvements through (the water and sewer) department. I thank him for his work. I have confidence in Arcadis moving forward, but I wish him the best in his next job.”

Eroshevich said Hartwig left the company to work for a township in Pennsylvania.

Graham proposed drafting a letter from the commissioners to send to Hartwig to thank him for his assistance to the county.

The commissioners also commended Eroshevich for how his department has navigated several recent COVID and other health issues within the staff, keeping things running shorthanded.

“I attended a lot of meetings in the last year and I knew when I got elected I would have a lot to learn, but one thing I knew coming in was we had (Eroshevich) leading that department and doing a fine job.”

After viewing several renderings over the past few months, the commissioners approved signage from Signs LTD for the Towers Building at 500 Market St., and in doing so have named the buidling the “Jefferson County Tower.”

The county health department, port authority, board of elections and several other entities are housed in the building.

A lease for Dillonvale county court was approved with a slight increase, which was noted to be the first such increase in several years.

Graham made a new appointment to the Brooke-Hancock-Jefferson board, rescinding the one he made during Monday’s reorganization meeting to re-appoint Delores Wiggins.

Graham instead moved to appoint Christina Wanat, the vice president of Eastern Gateway Community College.

The commissioners thanked Wiggins for her years of service to the county and community in various roles.

The commissioners approved the hiring of Ashley Yoder in the role of eligibility referral specialist for the department of Job and Family Services following an executive session.

Upon the mention of athletic upgrades taking place at Edison High School in Richmond, Maple pointed out there have been a lot of improvements made by school districts in the county during the last decade.

“Ten years ago or so, one of the main problems with economic development or quality of life in the county was always school infrastructure,” Maple said. “I want to congratulate our local school district for the work that has been done.

“That issue that was one of these high-bar issues for us 10 years ago, folks took action and it’s really good to see.”

The commissioners will hold a budget meeting following next week’s meeting.

The courthouse will be closed on Monday in recognition of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

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