Martins Ferry to plan sewer upgrades

MARTINS FERRY – The city will be required to take on a large scale project during the next few years.

Jennifer Witte, compliance enforcement supervisor, Ohio EPA, addressed the city council during their past meeting to address mandated repairs to the sewer system in the Martins Ferry area.

She noted that the sewers flow to the Eastern Ohio Regional Water and Sewer District’s wastewater treatment plant where residents’ sewage is treated. They are required to reduce the number of combined sewer overflows to the Ohio River.

In order for them to comply, all satellite communities including Martins Ferry must identify problems in their collection system and improve the system. She added that the EPA understood the scope of such a project and would work with the city.

“We don’t expect you guys to fix this problem in one day or one year. We know that your sewer system is very old and these problems didn’t occur overnight. You are not going to resolve these problems overnight,” she said, adding that the city may have to begin addressing storm sewers before they can begin to address the issue of sanitary sewers, depending on the evaluation. She added that the sewer system probably dates from the 1930s, 40s and 50s.

However, she said that if the city chooses not to cooperate on a voluntary level then the agency must refer the matter to the Attorney General’s office, which would lead to litigation and penalties.

“Our agency doesn’t want to do that. We want to do this on a voluntary level. We want to work with you,” she said, adding that the agency could direct the city to funding sources.

Council Member Bruce Shrodes inquired about costs and available aid. Witte said the EPA’s Division of Environmental and Financial Assistance is able to work with municipalities, but they must have an approved facilities plan before being eligible for their funding. Principal forgiveness funding has been available in prior years. She noted that Twin Cities has received zero to low interest loans for their projects.

In response to further questions, she added that the extent of the upgrades to separate the water would depend on whether there were blatant cross connections between storm and sanitary sewers or if a storm sewer is being used as a sanitary sewer.

Shrodes noted recent demolition efforts and added that new buildings are in compliance. He said prior demolition projects resulted in water running into the storm sewers and overwhelming them.

Witte gave some examples of creative retention structures.

“We need to get a plan to start somewhere, and we need to get started working towards that,” she said.

Other council members noted that a pro-active approach could result in a savings of money from anticipating issues rather than having to clean up problems afterward.

“This is something that has to be done,” said Riethmiller. “As mayor, I’m 100 percent behind the project. It’s going to be a difficult project, but I’m asking council’s support.”

“It’s only a benefit to our residents and our businesses,” said Council Member Robert Hunker. “We need to look to the future.”

The city will give an annual report to the EPA. The project may be a 10- to 15-year venture. Some issues the city will face include the different types of sewers that have been combined. The steep, separate North End and the interconnections will also pose a challenge.

The agency will approach other communities such as Bellaire and Bridgeport.

Council gave a voice vote of approval to support their request so that the city administration can begin working with Jeff Vaughn, engineer, and surrounding communities to conform to the new mandates.