Communities complying with plan

BELMONT COUNTY communities are laying the groundwork to comply with the Environmental Protection Agency’s plan to reduce the inflow of clean storm water into sanitary sewer systems.

Satellite communities do not treat their own sewage but send it through the EORWA sanitary sewer system. During large storms, rainwater enters the sewers through cracks and improper connections and overloads the sewers of the treatment plant.

Martins Ferry, Bellaire, Bridgeport, Brookside and the Belmont County Sanitary Sewer District have joined in agreement with the state EPA in the project.

The Martins Ferry administration has been working diligently and moving forward on upgrades to the city sewage system to bring it into compliance with recent mandates required by the Ohio EPA.

Jennifer Witte, compliance enforcement supervisor with the Ohio EPA met with council February to discuss mandated repairs to the sewer system in Martins Ferry and villages in the surrounding area.

“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,” Witte 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.

The large scope and cost of the problem has necessitated a plan to address it in phases. Development Director Kathy Gagin noted that the sewer projects are listed in the city’s five- year plan and that she has been actively searching for grants to address the issue.

“The first step was to arm ourselves with a current and accurate set of maps so that we know how large and complex the problem really issue is,” she said, adding that the first step of this project was completed with a grant from the Rural Communities Assistance Program (RCAP) and WSOS Community Action Council.

The city now has a complete set of maps and a interactive computer program showing all water and sewer lines, hydrants and shut-off valves within the city.

Gagin said this will also increase efficiency given the state of the infrastructure.

“When dealing with a system of this age you often have malfunctions and regular run of the mill breaks. Being able to isolate the problem in a quick and efficient manner lets our water and sewer departments respond and fix the problem while inconveniencing the least amount of people. “

As the project moves forward, the city administration will be working with the engineering firm of Vaughn Coast & Vaughn and the Eastern Ohio Regional Wastewater Authority. Service Director Chuck Bennett noted that wastewater from Martins Ferry City Sewers flow into the Eastern Ohio Regional Water and Sewer District’s plant in Bellaire for treatment.

Gagin also noted that money is always an issue with older infrastructurea. The city is working with all funding agencies including OMEGA (Ohio Mid Eastern Governments Association), OPWC (Ohio Public Works Commission) the Ohio EPA and the USDA.

David Marling, village administrator for Bellaire since January, said the municipality was taking the initial steps.

“It’s very early in the process,” he said.

The village has appointed a distribution coordinator to water and sewer distribution lines. Marling said the coordinator is responsible for overseeing repairs and holds a Class 1 water license and is also in the process of a sewer license necessary to oversee repairs to the sewer lines.

Marling noted this was the first step of the process. In addition, the village is in the process of obtaining GIS mapping through RCAP. The new maps have been received and employees are being trained in the use of computer-based models. He noted the maps will provide a better understanding of the village’s needs.

While 2013 will be an organizational year, Marling said most of the work in improving sewer and distribution lines will be taking place in 2014.

Like the rest of the municipalities, the most pressing issue Bellaire is facing is the need for revenue to undertake the projects. This includes money for pipes and personnel.

“The mayor, council and administrators are trying to be creative with personnel,” Marling said, adding that the village is implementing an ordinance to allow the hiring of part-time employees for up to 90 days in order to complete special projects.

While it is too early for a cost estimate, the village is identifying criteria to see what can be done to reduce the amount of storm water entering the sanitary sewers. The issue is complicated by factors such as the age of the system.

“Bellaire has one of the oldest infrastructures in the valley,” he said, noting that much of the infrastructure including water and sewer lines remains from Bellaire’s days as a city and must be maintained, even though there are no structures being served.

Marling added that the village sees the value in cooperation and is looking into ways of working with other communities under the same mandate. In one example, ne noted that council would prefer not to purchase equipment and are reaching out to cooperate other municipalities with the same issues.

“As dollars tighten, we may work together,” he said, adding that this is the same for leadership, individuals and agencies within a community as well as between municipalities. “I believe it will have to be a coordinated effort to meet regulations.”

He noted that more progress is expected after six month, as meetings continue and villagers determine what is possible financially.

“This is an unfunded mandate. Everyone wants to do it, but you’ve got to get it accomplished within funding boundaries,” he said.

DeFrank can be reached at