Martins Ferry council to write letter to ODNR concerning Austin Master

T-L Photo/JENNIFER COMPSTON-STROUGH Beverly Reed, a Bridgeport resident and member of the Concerned Ohio River Residents environmental group, addresses Martins Ferry City Council on Wednesday regarding the Austin Master Services frack waste recycling facility. Seated from left are city Auditor Jack Regis and Councilmen the Rev. James Ganew and James Schramm.

MARTINS FERRY — Martins Ferry City Council intends to send a letter to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources asking the department to force Austin Master Services to cease its frack waste recycling operations and to clean up all hazardous materials housed at its facility on First Street.

Council’s Ordinance Committee also is in the process of drafting an ordinance that would prohibit businesses that handle hazardous waste from operating in the Purple City.

Council President Kristine Davis committed to writing the letter during a council meeting Wednesday — the same day as a court-ordered deadline for cleanup of the Austin Master site. Other council members agreed that the body would send the letter, and they also said they would seek the support of other local elected officials.

Belmont County Commissioner Jerry Echemann, father of Councilman Spencer Echemann, was in the audience. He said if Davis would send him a copy of council’s letter, he would try to persuade the other commission members to take similar action.

Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost filed a complaint against Austin Master in Belmont County Common Pleas Court for allegedly exceeding the amount of waste it is permitted to store. The permit allows 600 tons of waste on site; the complaint states that the facility collected more than 10,000 tons.

Council was approached Wednesday by Ron and Beverly Reed of Bridgeport, who for several years have attended meetings to sound the alarm about potential hazards presented by the presence of the Austin Master operation in close proximity to the Ohio River and the city’s water treatment plant. Ron Reed spoke first, saying he was glad to hear about improvements to the water treatment plant but then pointing out that the toxic waste being stored by Austin Master and the recent flooding of the Ohio River created “the perfect storm.”

Reed said he had video of the flood water around the frack waste facility flowing north toward the city’s drinking water well field. He also asked several questions about how and where water flows from that area following flooding.

Mayor John Davies replied that the “outfall” for that area is to the south of the Austin Master plant.

Reed added that the river reached about 42 feet during this round of flooding and said there are historic records of crests reaching 55 feet, which would have infiltrated the building in which Austin Master is housed. He said that ODNR issuing a permit for the facility to operate in that area was “negligence.” He asked council to “recognize these facts” about Austin Master and to “send them packing.”

“Send a letter to the ODNR chief that we don’t want their waste anymore,” he urged.

When his daughter was next to approach the microphone, Davis at first attempted to stop her from speaking. She said council had made it clear on previous occasions that only one person representing a group would be permitted to speak during each meeting.

Beverly Reed said that was “not a legal thing to do” and that the American Civil Liberties Union would file a lawsuit against the city if individuals were prevented from addressing council. After some debate between them, Davis asked Reed to limit her remarks to five minutes after Reed said that she had new information to present.

“We did get a lot of good information from your group,” Davis acknowledged as she gave Reed the floor.

Reed shared an article first published by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Monday and reprinted with permission by The Times Leader on Tuesday. It outlined the history of Austin Master’s parent company, American Environmental Partners, including numerous name changes and disputes over unpaid bills. The company acquired Austin Master in July 2022 and has closed three of its subsidiaries, including Austin Master, in recent weeks.

“They’ve been stiffing people all along the way,” Beverly Reed said of American Environmental Partners before asking city leaders for an update on the situation.

Davies said city officials have been in contact with the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency as well as with ODNR and Yost’s office. Davies added that he has visited the site himself several times in recent days.

“ODNR is tough to deal with. They are not very sympathetic to our situation,” Davies said.

The mayor noted that there are workers inside the facility who are squeezing liquids from the solid waste stored there. He was told the company planned to ship out two of five railcars that were holding waste inside the building but did not know if this had happened.

“I haven’t seen any outside activity,” he added.

Martins Ferry resident Richard Hord also spoke to council. He asked if the former Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel mill where Austin Master is located, owned by 4K Industrial, might eventually be razed as part of the cleanup.

Davies replied that there were “a whole lot of steps” between the current situation and the point in time where it might be possible to demolish the structure.


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