Oak Harbor Village Council is on the hunt for a new engineering firm to help solve its sewage back flow problem.
Council voted unanimously Monday night not to hire its regular consultant Poggemeyer Design Group of Bowling Green to undertake a proposed two-phase “no feasible alternatives study” to investigate malfunctions that left some residents mopping up messes in their homes after heavy rains.
Instead, members directed Village Administrator Robert Pauley to begin a four-month process to find another engineering firm for environmental issues.
The move stems from Poggemeyer staff designing the combined sewer overflow pond that fell apart more than a year ago when the walls crumbled. The deterioration caused the village to take contractors to court for restitution. Poggemeyer coughed up $600,000 of its own money without going through the court process, Mayor Bill Eberle said in a later interview.
Before the vote, the group went into a lengthy discussion weighing the pros and cons of using Poggemeyer for the environmental study.
“If we had the luxury of time I would say do this (project) in ’14,” Councilman Don Douglas said.
Others contended the four-month delay would be well spent putting another capable company at the helm of a problem that had grown in recent years.
Councilman Jon Fickert insisted that the village should not employ the company that likely created the problem. He and others agreed that the project needed “a third set of eyes” to review the materials in an unbiased manner.
He also admonished Pauley for not staying in touch with residents who had filled the council chambers to complain about sewer backup issues.
“We have their addresses,” Fickert said “… Why aren’t we talking to them?”
Councilman Donna Wendt also emphasized the need to keep these residents up to date with village efforts to fix the problem. “As soon as we get another big rain,” she added, “this room is going to be full again.”
Sewer treatment plant superintendent Jerry Neff offered his opinion prior to the vote.
“Personally, I don’t care what engineering firm you use. I’m not married to any engineering firm. But maybe it’s time to let someone else look at the data,” he said.
Eberle explained that Poggemeyer’s previous designs were based on rainfall data collected in Fremont, the nearest designated national geological site and research went back about 50 years. Yet, the village has experienced some of its rainiest days in recent years and village employees have kept more in-depth, in-house records that are now available.
“One storm we got 7 inches of rain in three hours,” Pauley agreed.
The study is necessary for a couple of reasons.
The village is currently waiting on an Ohio Environmental Protection Agency response to its request to modify its permit and open the combine sewer overflow station at Portage Street to relieve some system stress. Oak Harbor has nine overflow stations. Three can be opened. The other six must remain closed.
Study results are needed to move forward for the permit and future projects, Pauley said.
The first phase of the Poggemeyer proposal, slated to cost $9,800 to evaluate likely causes of the problems and various rainfall data, would have taken about 90 days to complete. The second phase focusing on flow monitoring at manholes would take about three to four months and includes no price estimate.
One of the proposed projects in the wings is a $1.9 million separation upgrade that would include two streets.
“The majority of the village is not separated and that’s the problem,” the mayor explained.
The wastewater treatment plant has been in operation since 1958, with major upgrades in 1975, 1989 and 2000, according to the village website.
The biggest future undertaking by far would be addressing sewer separation along Church Street, which affects drainage for about 300 acres, Eberle said. The sewer regularly flows from a regulator at Church Street.
Councilman Jim Seaman, who lives on Church Street, was adamant he would not support such a large-scale project at this time. Village sewer rates, which are already some of the highest in the state, would go up across the board, Seaman said. And, he noted, Church Street residents would be hit with the additional property assessments and tap-in fees.
Fickert suggested later that dropping Poggemeyer for the environmental study might be a step toward “slipping away from Poggemeyer.”
His peers defended other work undertaken by Poggemeyer on behalf of the village. “Engineering for Park Street turned out to be beautiful,” one stated.
Eberle said he would contact Poggemeyer about the vote. He wanted clarification though. “This is strictly on the environmental side?” he asked.
“I’m not saying get rid of them. I’m just saying for this project,” Wendt said.
Employee returns to work
A village worker fired for insubordination this summer is back on the job.
Joe Reau returned to service Monday after wrapping up the dispute with village officials. Village Administrator Robert Pauley fired Reau in late June for attempting to tape a pre-disciplinary hearing. But he was recently reinstated after going through the in-house appeals process, Mayor Bill Eberle said Tuesday.
Grievance committee members recommended a 30-day suspension, which is considered to be served. Reau also signed an agreement, came back to work and is currently on an 18-month probationary period.
“The bottom line is it came down to my call and I brought him back,” Eberle said. “I think everybody probably deserves a second chance. This was an unfortunate situation. And, I think if cooler heads had prevailed, we could have avoided this whole situation.”
Reau, who had been working at the wastewater treatment plant prior to his dismissal, came back to work in the electrical department. He has been an employee of the village since 1997 and was earning about $25 an hour as a Class III wastewater treatment plant operator when the dispute occurred.
He won’t receive any back pay either, the mayor said. Reau collected unemployment during the grievance period.
Eberle said finding a new spot for Reau was easy given that he is a skilled worker and holds various licenses.