EPA tells Bellaire to control sewer overflow issues

BELLAIRE – The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency is looking to get combined sewer overflows (CSO) under control locally.

Locally, the final stop for piped sewage is the East Ohio Regional Wastewater Authority’s treatment plant just north of Bellaire along Ohio 7.

Communities like Bellaire, Martins Ferry and Bridgeport pipe their sewage to the plant for treatment.

The problem is that these are older communities, still utilizing combined sewer drainage systems.

In a combined sewer system, both untreated sewage and storm water are piped through the same system to the treatment plant. In dry conditions or low-levels of precipitation, this system can function properly.

However, in the event of large or steady amounts of precipitation, there can be overflow, spilling a mixture of storm water and raw sewage, untreated, into an adjacent body of water. This includes streams, lakes, creeks and even the Ohio River.

Jennifer Witte, the compliance enforcement supervisor for the Ohio EPA’s Southeast District Office, met with Bellaire village officials Thursday to inform the village it’s time to start doing its part to combat this problem.

She’s had similar meetings with Martins Ferry and Bridgeport officials the last two months.

“We’re requiring that EORWA get it down to four or less overages per year,” Witte said. “In order for them to do that, you have to do your part.”

Witte covered Bellaire’s ‘part’ in combating the problem in a set of printed findings and orders that had previously been distributed to village administration and council members for review.

“One question that’s been asked is what happens if you say no, you won’t sign an agreement to follow the orders,” Witte mentioned. “The next step is being sent to the Ohio Attorney General’s office for enforcement. You will have to negotiate with them for compliance. After that, is litigation in a court of law. There are penalties at both stages. But there is no penalty with these orders currently. There is no plan to issue a fine. We’re just asking for cooperation and that you’re willing to sign and work toward resolving the issues.”

The orders were sent out in 2012.

Witte explained that the problem didn’t arise overnight and the EPA is expecting it to be fixed as such, or even within a year. But the EPA does want to see a plan and they want to see steps being taken to control the problem and get it corrected.

Mayor Vince DiFabrizio stated that he, along with council members, are in agreement the problem needs to be taken care of and that the village is eager to comply. There is just one issue . . . funding.

“I’m all for it,” the mayor stated.

Witte said the EPA understands that funding can be an issue. But she strongly believes where there is a will, there is a way. There is grant funding through various agencies, along with low to zero interest loans. But the village needs to come up with a plan first about how to attack this problem before it can be submitted as part of a grant or loan application.

DiFabrizio told Witte the village is willing to sign the letter of agreement and will send an additional letter, stating as such, to her office.

Council members voted, 6-0, in agreement with the mayor in starting the process of moving forward and trying to get into compliance.