The biggest concern on the minds of public officials now should be how to keep their constituents and employees safe from COVID-19. Complying with mandates from higher echelons of government ought to be put on the back burner unless, of course, they involve immediate matters of public safety or health.
That category does not include whether St. Clairsville’s water system meets every Ohio Environmental Protection Agency requirement.
St. Clairsville’s utility problems date back years. To their credit, OEPA officials have not been sticklers for compliance deadlines. They have made it clear that city officials need to do something about the aging water system, however.
It had been hoped that, with a new mayor — Kathryn Thalman — decisions on whether to sell the system to a private company or upgrade it to OEPA standards could be made early this year.
COVID-19 has gotten in the way of just about everything, including city officials’ investigation of how to proceed on the water and sewer systems.
Last week, City Council held a rather unusual meeting, via teleconferencing. The arrangement was because of COVID-19, of course.
During the meeting, city officials heard from Aqua Ohio President Ed Kolodziej. His firm had given the city until this month to accept or reject its purchase proposal. The deadline has been extended to May 1.
During the meeting, council President Jim Velas noted it had been hoped a town hall meeting could be held to discuss the matter with residents. Under the current circumstances, that would be possible only electronically — probably excluding many people.
Again, OEPA officials have been exceedingly helpful in their attitude. They seem eager to help St. Clairsville, rather than throw their bureaucratic weight around.
They should continue in that spirit by throwing compliance deadlines out the window for at least the next few months. Officials and residents ought to be able to make decisions while their minds are engaged fully — not while everyone is worried sick about, well, getting sick.