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Water solutions in the works in St. C.

ST. CLAIRSVILLE — Purchasing water from Belmont County seems to be the option of choice for the city to meet Ohio Environmental Protection Agency mandates.

Mayor Kathryn Thalman held a press conference Thursday morning with Belmont County Water and Sanitary Sewer Director Kelly Porter and Jeff Vaughn, an engineer who conducted a study of the city’s water system and options for retaining local control. Thalman provided background information about the installation of connecting lines from the county on U.S. 40 and Ohio 9 in past years.

The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency has been eyeing St. Clairsville’s water service.

“In 2015 the plant degradation gets the Ohio EPA’s attention. However, there was a lack of capital improvement to address the Ohio EPA’s concerns,” Thalman said, adding Aqua Ohio expressed an interest in purchasing the water plant in 2016. “From 2016 to this point, very little was done with the water plant in anticipation of possibly selling the water.”

The debate over privatization vs. local control was important during the 2019 mayoral election, with prior mayor Terry Pugh in favor of privatization and Thalman winning on a platform of exploring options for maintaining local control.

Following the election, the city received final findings and orders from the OEPA on April 12.

“In two years, the water plant and the reservoir must be abandoned and a permanent water source needs to be connected to the city,” Thalman said.

Thalman said city leaders have not been idle.

“There were 16 findings from the Ohio EPA. So far, in just under four months, our team has accomplished 14 out of these 16.”

Vaughn pointed out one example: Replacing the lower-level gate of the reservoir intake structure. There was some concern the reservoir might need to be drained and dredged, but a diving survey found sludge was accumulated at the gate but not as deep as in the rest of the reservoir and upgrades will be completed at a cost of $31,000. The work is in progress.

Other improvements included painting piping and installing industrial dehumidifiers, and repairing a clarifier that was leaking oil. Vaughn said repairs to the clarifier required some disassembly and about $20 worth of new parts.

“They were considered a big deal, and they were not being done, and we went ahead and did them. They weren’t as bad as they seemed,” Vaughn said.

Leaks in the distribution system also must be addressed.

“We’re going to be doing a water-loss audit. Our five municipal buildings have never been metered before, and we have heard ranges from 40 percent to 60 percent … water loss that we were incurring,” Thalman said. “Nobody really knew because the city buildings weren’t metered.”

She said five meters were ordered and four of five are now installed.

Thalman said she is continuing discussions with Aqua Ohio. The May 4 deadline to accept or reject the contract is no longer feasible, since it specified Aqua would make capital improvements to the water plant, us of which will be discontinued, and numerous repairs since made by the city.

Vaughn’s study concluded that maintaining water service locally is an affordable option.

“We’re going to replace the east end booster station. We’re going to maintain operation of the existing water plant booster station, and the Ohio EPA has us retiring the plant in two years. We’re planning upgrades to the water distribution,” Thalman said.

Thalman said she hopes to keep costs low using low-interest loans and grants. Officials are exploring funding options.

The new east end booster station would be located near the welcome sign at the corporation limit. Vaughn said the cost could be as high as $400,000.

Porter said the booster station on the east side along U.S. 40 can supply 200,000 gallons, but it cannot be used in conjunction with the current water plant.

“The only connection that can be used if St. Clairsville’s water plant is operating is at Route 9 at the treatment plant,” he said, adding the Ohio 9 connection can only supply about 325,000 gallons daily until planned upgrades to the county system are complete, in an estimated two years.

Porter said his department intends to use U.S. 40 and Ohio 9 connections to provide for the city’s water. Each would provide 50 percent of the city’s water, and either could supply 100 percent when county upgrades are complete.

Vaughn said the task of replacing city waterlines can be done in phases as rates are increased, since increased revenue would allow the city to borrow more.

Vaughn has estimated a cost of $6.5 million for water upgrades in 10 years, and $3.5 million in wastewater upgrades, with $4.5 million borrowed for the work.

In terms of rate increases, at the end of 10 years the typical residential water bill for 2,000 gallons per month would be $43.33, and the average monthly wastewater bill would be $34.51. Currently, the average bill for 2,000 gallons is $22.98 monthly. The first three years would see increases of 9.1 percent, 8.3 percent, and 7.7 percent, respectively.

More information will be put before City Council during a teleconference meeting at 7:30 p.m. Monday. The public can call 740-232-9309 to listen. The access number is 6493.

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