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Steubenville Council hears about water issues, fixes

DISCUSSION — City Water Superintendent Jim Jenkins talked to council Tuesday about water issues and fixes. -- Linda Harris

STEUBENVILLE — City Council finally reached a consensus Tuesday to use American Rescue Plan funds to pay for the West End water project and the CS03 sewer project, and take the $68,000 needed for an engineering study for Beatty Park Bridge repairs out of the general fund.

Since it was a committee meeting, no formal vote could be taken.

Fifth Ward Councilman Willie Paul, chairman of council’s finance committee, had called the meeting to discuss potentially allocating ARPA funds for those two projects and the Beatty Park Bridge project.

Paul had started the meeting by telling his council mates, “I don’t think we should borrow money when the people of our town are paying a pretty nice price for water. I think we pay (for these) with ARPA money.”

“If we take out loans and don’t fund it, in the long run we’ll saddle (the next council) … with debt we really don’t want to do,” Paul said.

“And debt, as we talked about before, inhibits our future,” 6th Ward Councilman Michael Hernon interjected, saying there’s no question they need to fund the water tower and CSO3. “But there’s this tension of knowing how much (debt) with this CSO3 … We’re pursuing grants, we need to do these projects, it’s just a question of knowing how much debt does that look like. If we lined up all our infrastructure projects it would be more than our operating budget, we would be here for a long time. Right now, these are our priorities and we need to get them done. We need to look at how much debt we can do … if we fully funded everything, we wouldn’t have money left over.”

Council plans to set aside $5 million for the West End water project, which would “improve the resiliency” of the city’s water system by creating a loop connecting the West End pressure zone to the downtown high pressure zone, Water Superintendent Jim Jenkins said. The project will include a new 400,000 storage tank and a new booster pump station to improve redundancy and resiliency in the system. City officials have said the upgrade will ensure an emergency supply for business, schools and health care customers in the West End, while also protecting downtown residents from another lengthy outage like the one suffered in 2018.

Another $3.878 million was checked off for the sewer department’s CSO3, or combined sewer overflows, work, which involves replacing a 320-foot section of 15-inch clay sewer pipes near the intersection of University and Dean Martin boulevards with 24-inch steel cased pipes. That would “significantly reduce, if not eliminate, the number and the volume of overflows at that particular overflow point.” That’s important because overflows go directly into the Ohio River, which Ohio EPA doesn’t want to happen.

Assuming council follows through on those earmarks, City Finance Director Dave Lewis said there should be about $2.4 million left in the ARPA fund that hasn’t been spent.

“As we do this, infrastructure is important,” 4th Ward Councilman Royal Mayo said. “Infrastructure is important, but when you’re looking to attract young people to bring families into the city, they want to know what there is to do here, where am I going to take my kids to play, what are the parks like? A lot of older people could care less if the baseball fields are good, if we have a nice basketball court, if there’s a place kids can skateboard, but these are things if we want younger people to come and stay, be here and have families here, we can’t get $14.6 million we had no idea we were getting and then as soon as we get it, already have all these projects that have to be funded or the city is going to go under. That’s the doom-and-gloom story we’ve got.”

“I’m saying watch our money, that’s all I’m saying,” Paul replied.

“We didn’t know we were getting this money,” Mayo continued on. “We have to put some of it in other things to let the whole community know we care about (their) concerns as well.”

But 3rd Ward Councilman Eric Timmons pointed out people are likely to be concerned, if not more so, with the condition of their water.

“If I’m looking at a community, I’m thinking first about how’s the water system,” he said. “We had somebody showing us dirty water last week. We need to make sure infrastructure is taken care of first.”

“That lady’s water is absolutely terrible and needs to be fixed,” Mayo replied. “What we’re putting this money into will not change that one bit. Not one bit. Everything we’re proposing today, if it was done by tomorrow, will be the same way – it’s not going to do nothing for her.”

Paul pointed out there’s no way to predict when the next catastrophic city event will be and when it does, “that’s just more money we’re going to have to find somehow to pay for it.”

He said time now is something of a luxury, given the steady upward climb of prices and services.

“We did talk a few months ago that we didn’t have to rush into anything,” he said. “But some projects I think we need to get into because it’s just going to get worse, so I think we do need to get started on some of these projects, like the water tower project. Let’s get started.”

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