The Press Newspaper
State environmental officials, swayed by Oak Harbor’s plea for help, agreed to temporary regulation changes to relieve sewer system flooding while a long-term solution is sought.
“They have given us the OK for everything we wanted plus some,” Mayor Bill Eberle told village council at its regular meeting Monday. “I was very pleased with Jones & Henry.”
Eberle accompanied engineers to the April 23 meeting with the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency’s Bowling Green office staff along with Interim Administrator Randy Genzman, Village Solicitor Jim Barney and Wastewater System Supervisor Jerry Neff.
“I don’t want to say I was shocked but I was very excited,” Genzman said about the almost immediate results of the visit.
For more than two years, the village has been battling to reduce sewer backups triggered by heavy rains. The problem is linked to a faulty combined sewer system overflow pond that council has been pouring repair money into for months.
Last fall, council fired the engineering firm, Poggemeyer Design Group, and pinned its hopes on the Toledo office of Jones & Henry Engineering instead.
Shortly after the Jones & Henry presentation, EPA officials gave Oak Harbor permission to open two more system regulator valves at the Portage Fire District station and at Church Street, Genzman told council. The presentation included information gathered in March from residents about the damage and health issues created by sewer water pouring into their basements and yards – in some cases repeatedly.
“They also directed us to design a permanent combined sewer overflow point at the basin,” Genzman explained to council. “We wanted that from the beginning.”
A few weeks prior, the EPA had already given approval to re-open a regulator valve at Portage Street to allow overflow into the nearby Portage River. Officials had tried to get permission for months. That project, for which the village hired Castalia Trenching and Ready Mix, began May 5 and should be complete within a few days, Genzman said.
Village leaders have said that opening the valves will not solve the problem completely. However, the re-openings will relieve a lot of stress on the system and reduce flooding while the search continues for a permanent fix.
Councilwoman Sue Rahm wanted to know the cost for opening the other two valves. “Will the opening costs be the same?” she asked.
Estimates will be sought immediately for the other two openings and, hopefully, they may come in lower than the $6,300 Portage Street CSO project, Genzman said.
Some of the work may be done by village workers, the mayor said.
Councilman Jim Seaman wanted to know what effect the Church Street regulator re-opening and others would have on the installed docks and the proposed kayak launch along the Portage River.
“None,” Genzman answered. “We will submerge the flow.”
The EPA did not set any deadlines as they encouraged village officials to move forward.
“I love to go to bat for small communities. Big cities get all the attention,” Gardner said.
One thing he will fight for in the next few months is trying to get funding for communities in cleanup mode for damage created during this year’s devastating winter.
“I think the state should provide assistance for unforeseen costs for historic problems,” Gardner told council. If the state could muster a payout of even $10 per capita, that could bring at least a few thousand for communities like Oak Harbor.
“It would be nice to get something back after giving so much,” the mayor said.
“All the properties have been energized,” Genzman told council.
The project slowed for months when drillers ran into unexpected bedrock mound and had to bring in new equipment. The move hinged on council approving a change order of about $115,000 which members did reluctantly since the work was so far along.