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Concerned residents encourage council to sign EPA letter

BRIDGEPORT — The Concerned Ohio River Residents and its supporters are making their way to communities that receive water from Martins Ferry in hopes that elected officials’ will sign a letter urging the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to inspect the ground near the Austin Master Services frack waste recycling plant.

A Bridgeport Village Council meeting was the group’s latest stop.

During Tuesday’s council meeting, Mike Bianconi, a Pease Township trustee, voiced his support for CORR and its efforts to protect the community’s drinking water.

“I’m very concerned about the water issue. To be clear, the water is not contaminated. It’s great water, I drink the water. It’s from the city of Martins Ferry, and it’s great water. I drink it every day. I just want to make sure it stays clean and drinkable,” he said.

Bianconi said he and his fellow township trustees have signed the letter, along with the Brookside mayor and council members and Adena mayor and council. He asked Bridgeport officials to add their names to the list.

“Just to make sure the (U.S.) EPA makes sure that the area up there stays safe. … It’s not saying many things are not safe, I want to make that very clear, but we want to make sure it’s safe,” he said.

Beverly Reed, a member of CORR and a village resident, said the Ohio EPA does not regulate the oil and gas industry, so the group is working to encourage the U.S. EPA to take steps to investigate the situation surrounding the Austin Master Services frack waste recycling facility in Martins Ferry. CORR had soil samples taken from around the plant analyzed, and testing indicated increased levels of radioactivity.

The Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Oil and Gas does have primary regulatory authority over the oil and gas industry, but Ohio EPA issues air and water quality and discharge permits related to oil and gas operations. According to its website, the Ohio EPA establishes and enforces standards for air, water, waste management and cleanup of sites contaminated with hazardous waste.

Reed, though, believesthe letter could prompt federal intervention.

“It’s just asking them to do an inspection of the site and that inspection includes environmental testing. They take soil samples, they take water samples, the standing water, the air, all of it and they see what’s going on at the site,” she explained.

“The reason we want them to do that is because we took our own money and time and collected samples down there by Austin Masters, 4K and all those facilities, and we found, or Oak Ridge Tennessee — the certified laboratory — found very elevated levels of radionuclides. So radium-226, which is not good for our bodies.”

Reed said it would be “amazing” to add village council members’ names to the letter. She provided council with copies of the letter and information to review.

Councilwoman Michelle Lucarelli said Martins Ferry’s water is “probably” the most tested in the state of Ohio.

“They are constantly doing tests because of concerns of any type of issues. From my understanding, Austin Masters has hired someone to continue to do soil samples and water samples to make sure there are no problems. So I don’t understand at this point if they are trying to do everything they can and the city of Martins Ferry is trying to do everything they possibly can … I think this is getting to the point of overkill,” she said.

Councilman Robert Bennington inquired as to how many Martins Ferry council members had signed the letter.

Reed said the group has not asked them yet because they are “not receptive” to the group.

After some more discussion between Reed and council, Solicitor Michael Shaheen suggested leaving the letter for council members to individually review and sign at will. All parties agreed. The letter sign on sheet will remain in Mayor Norma Teasdale’s office until May 24.

Reed said she will pick the letter up then, adding that CORR members do plan to make public the individuals who sign and do not sign the document.

“It is election year so we do plan to post everyone who did and didn’t sign,” she said.

In other matters, Teasdale recognized the EMS and police department for their work in the community.

“This week was National Police and EMS week, and we wish to recognize our Bridgeport EMS and police department for doing an outstanding job providing 24-hour service and protection to our citizens as well as recognizing all laws and EMS departments across the nation,” she said.

Before the end of the meeting, Shaheen requested an executive session to discuss ongoing litigation, potential litigation and contractual obligations.

Following the closed-door session, council took no action on those matters.

Council will next meet at 6 p.m. June 21 in council chambers, 301 Main St.

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