The proposed expansion of the Collins Park Water Treatment Plant in East Toledo drew about 45 residents living near the plant to the Birmingham Branch public library on Tuesday to voice their concerns about the project, which calls for the city’s purchase of several homes in the area.
Some wanted to know if the expansion would affect the nearby Collins Park, and whether their homes would be taken by eminent domain if they did not want to sell them to the city.
“We’re not coming in to take the park or take people’s properties,” said Dave Welch, director of public utilities in Toledo. “But if we can string some of those properties together, we’re going to do it, and we have the authorization to spend the money. That’s what we’re looking at.”
Some property owners have already expressed an interest in selling their homes to Toledo, said Welch.
“We have a couple of people we’ve already talked to,” he said. He characterized it as a “willing buyer, willing seller” situation.
“We already own about one-third of the property along there right now. So we thought, `Let’s see who’s interested out there.’ Obviously, that caused some concern with some folks because they didn’t understand what we’re doing and what we’re trying to do,” said Welch.
“We don’t know what the future may hold,” said Jamie Miller, a realty specialist with the city. “We have no immediate plans to go into the park. But it’s not out of the realm of possibility at some unforeseeable point in the future.”
Dave Leffler, Toledo’s commissioner of plant operations, said the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency has mandated $314 million of improvements to the plant. “A lot of that is equipment related,” he said.
Most of the equipment in the plant, which was built in 1941 at the onset of World War II, is still in service today, said Leffler.
“A lot of the pumps, motors, electrical switch gears, and things like that,” said Leffler. “A lot of those improvements will be internal to the existing buildings as well as rehabbing some of the existing buildings. The main plant itself has about 2.8 acres under roof, and that’s one of the major projects. The concrete is falling loose, and some of the roof panels have gotten to a critical condition. It’s gotten so bad, we’ve had to put up some nets to catch the dropping concrete. Those are the types of things we will be doing.”
The plant, when it was first built, began operation with an 80 million gallons per day capacity. In 1956, the plant was expanded to 120 million gallons per day capacity with the construction of a 40 million gallons per day addition. A new 40 million gallon treatment unit for the plant is needed so that repairs can be made in the plant.
Currently, there is little space to expand, said Leffler.
“You don’t see a lot sitting out there. But a lot of the plant is underground. We have a 75 million gallon concrete reservoir that is totally underground. So we can’t build anything on top of that property. When you look at the whole footprint of what is there, it’s starting to get really tight with space,” said Leffler.
A man in the audience asked why the city installed a new solar array, or sun panels, next to the treatment plant instead of on top of the roof, if there is a concern about limited space at the site.
Leffler said the roof is in poor shape and would not support the weight of the panels.
“It would have cost too much money,” said Leffler.
The expansion project also consists of the construction of a new chlorine facility that is separate from the rest of the buildings, said Leffler, and two new transformers.
“In order to do that, one building that needs to be relocated, that likely will be outside the current fence line, is a pole barn for maintenance items and storage,” said Leffler. “The other two projects in which we are looking for space are two new transformers. We are going to redo the electrical configuration there.”
Someone asked whether property across from a nearby cemetery could be used for the expansion.
“For the power grid, we need to keep it as close to the facility as we possibly can. So we would like to keep it adjacent to the existing property,” said Leffler.
Currently, there are no plans of what is being proposed, he said.
“We currently know for sure that we will be moving the pole barn, and it will be closer to York Street on property we already own. The electrical system has not been bid or designed yet. Part of that design, of course, will be to look at efficiencies,” said Leffler.
Some in the audience wanted assurances that the city will not use property in the park for the project. One man even asked for a written guarantee.
“We can,” said Welch. “The thing is, if things change down the road, and the EPA comes in and says we have to expand the plant by 200 million gallons, we’re going to have to do something. Right now, there’s no reason to take the park, or take anyone’s property. There are no plans in the works to go into the park. We know what we have to build right now. We’ve been negotiating with the EPA for the last three or four months on what they want us to do. And the expansion is a 40 million gallon plant and the chlorine facility.”
Leffler said the city mailed letters to homeowners on Collins Park Avenue, which is adjacent to the plant.
“We sent letters to every house to see what interest there was,” said Leffler.
“The offers that have been given to anyone who has asked about it is way under what we need to leave,” said a man in the audience. “So until you guys are more benevolent with your money…And you got over $300 million?”
Miller said their properties would be appraised, and based on comparable sales of similar houses.
“We will help anyone who is open to this process to find another home,” said Miller. “The goal is to help make you whole. Not to upgrade you.”
Peter Ujvagi, a long time resident of the Birmingham neighborhood and former councilman, asked officials, “Where is the plan that says this absolutely has to happen now, and why is it the community is not part of that?”
“This neighborhood has been around for a long time. We’ve had a number of challenges in this community,” said Ujvagi. “Every one of them we stood up on. So key words, `Not at this time,’ or ‘Yet,’ or `We don’t know what we’re going to do,’ we’ve gone through that. Very clearly, that doesn’t fly. If we’re building something that’s for the next 20-30 years, we better have the plans right. If there is even a scintilla of possibility that Collins Park would have to be used, every other option would have to be used first, not later.”
Welch said he could not “give a concrete answer on anything.”
“I can tell you that the EPA has dictated for the next 20 years for us - we can show you what we’re going to build, and where it’s going to be at,” said Welch.
Ujvagi suggested Officials agreed with a suggestion by Ujvagi to work with a task force consisting of local residents to discuss the project further.