Residents deserve answers

As St. Clairsville officials near a decision on whether to sell the municipal water system to a private company, it is becoming more and more clear that the city’s H2O infrastructure is, well, a wreck.

City council members recently were told the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency is mandating costly repairs and improvements to the water system.

“I can’t express to council and the public the severity of this,” said municipal Safety and Service Director Jim Zucal. “There’s tens of millions of dollars of requirements” from the OEPA, he added.

Zucal and other proponents of selling the system have made it plain they agree with state officials. Both the water treatment and distribution systems need an enormous amount of work, they say.

Well, the OEPA order makes that official. It is fair to ask, however, how the water system was permitted to deteriorate to such an extent.

It didn’t happen overnight. Were St. Clairsville officials in the past making the same mistake their counterparts in Steubenville did – failing to make necessary upgrades, little by little, that would require water rate increases?

As readers of this newspaper know, that neglect forced current officials in Steubenville to enact a whopping rate hike earlier this year. It’s likely the same sort of action will be necessary in St. Clairsville, regardless of whether the city retains control of the system or sells it to Aqua Ohio.

That decision is a contentious one that has prompted squabbles in the community. Mayor Terry Pugh and Zucal are proponents of the sale, and it appears several council members agree. However, numerous residents have expressed a desire to retain local control of the system. They fear higher rates, slower response times and other complications if privatization occurs. At least two candidates for mayor are basing their campaigns largely on opposition to the sale.

Regardless of the outcome of that issue, though, the water and wastewater systems in the city will have to be repaired and updated. Obviously, St. Clairsville’s water system has been neglected. Residents of the city have a right to know how that happened.