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Progress for water service in Belmont County announced

ST. CLAIRSVILLE — Belmont County is making progress in upgrading water service and providing service to those in need.

The Belmont County Board of Commissioners recently announced another development in upgrading its water system — a purchase agreement for property along the Ohio River in the village of Bellaire. The 2.5-acre lot is just south of Muxie Distributing on Guernsey Street. The cost is $1.75 million.

“The county has identified this site as the site for the new water treatment plant,” Commissioner J.P. Dutton said.

Three years ago, the county announced a U.S. Department of Agriculture water package, a $60.5 million investment including a $45.5 million direct loan combined with a nearly $15 million grant through the Water and Waste Disposal Loan and Grant Program, to modernize and improve the water system. The loan has a 40-year term at 2.3 percent interest.

“This is the next step in the process,” Dutton said. “It is the biggest project listed in our water agreement.”

He added that while the current water treatment plant is still producing quality water, it is nearing the end of its useful life and more demands are expected, such as St. Clairsville’s plan to discontinue using surface water from reservoirs and instead purchase water from Belmont County.

County Water and Sanitary Sewer Director Kelly Porter and A.C. Wiethe of Bel-O-Mar Regional Council also spoke about the planned work.

“Definitely a critical infrastructure project,” Wiethe said.

Dutton said officials hope to break ground in 2021.

“We want to try to find efficient ways to try to match up with other existing water systems and make sure that we’re all working together as much as possible,” Dutton said.

Michael Biaconi, a former commissioner and current Pease Township trustee and Democrat candidate for commissioner, attended the commission meeting Wednesday and spoke against the purchase of the site. He objected to the county spending more than $1.7 million for the riverfront property, saying it would be better suited to a different type of private development.

“That ground is prime for development for taxpayer jobs and property tax,” he commented afterward.

Bianconi said the site has “everything for jobs,” including access to transportation by river, rail and interstate highway. He suggested that property near the current treatment plant would be better suited for a new plant.

Meanwhile, Wiethe and the commissioners also announced water service will be provided to a section of road and residences that have been without service for more than 60 years. State funding was approved for Otto Road off Mount Victory Road in Pultney Township.

Dutton said there are several such areas without service in Belmont County, and obtaining funding is difficult.

Wiethe said the money will be available in the next month. The first step will be an environmental review. The goal is to have the design work completed and a permit to install and to bid the work out in winter or spring, with construction in 2021.

“It’s definitely a critical project, as anyone who doesn’t have potable water that you’ve got to haul out to your house (can say),” Wiethe said. He commended the commissioners for their efforts in securing funding. “It’s a pretty large project, almost $300,000.”

“It was a longshot, but not only did the project get funded, it got fully funded,” Dutton said. “The entire loan was $280,000. … The complete funding came through.”

Jim Morrison, a resident of Otto Road who has frequently spoken at commission meetings on behalf of the residents and who has reported on their efforts to contact state and county agencies and secure funding, was visibly touched by the news.

“This is one of those days you can’t be thankful enough,” he said. “So many people helped you achieve the things you needed to do. … The project itself is a 60-year project. It took me 27 years to get (to this point). … We didn’t have any Plan B to go to. We were already at Plan Z.”

He thanked the commissioners, Bel-O-Mar, U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson, R-Ohio, Ohio Rep. Jack Cera, D-Bellaire, and others.

“This is just a day that I’ll never forget,” he said, anticipating bringing the news to residents. “It’s changed our whole lifestyle. You’ve given us a new life. … I want to thank you for the seven families that live out there also.”

Morrison related the issues they have had, including collecting and treating rainwater for his water needs.

Pultney Township Trustee Frank Shaffer also said the improvements are necessary and appreciated.

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