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Toledo, Ohio & Lake Erie

The Press Newspaper

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Oak Harbor Village Council on Wednesday reaffirmed its decision to hire Jones & Henry Engineers in hopes of finding some quick relief for massive sewer system overflows plaguing village residents.

“You just have to ask yourself if you want to solve this problem,” councilman Jon Fickert said prior to the unanimous vote at a special meeting where a heated discussion broke out about high contract costs. “I believe the citizens deserve the best shot at success. And I believe that is Jones & Henry.”

More than a month ago, council met in special session and voted to hire the Cincinnati-based firm, which has offices in Toledo, to guide the village through the problem.

The village fired its longtime consultant on the project, Poggemeyer Design Group of Bowling Green, this fall following a number of missteps including overseeing the construction of an overflow pond that proved to be faulty.

At that December meeting, council directed Village Administrator Robert Pauley to negotiate a contract to get work under way. The village needs an engineering firm to complete a study needed for the Ohio Environment Protection Agency to review the village’s options and settle on solutions. But more pressing is that the EPA won’t even consider pending requests to open combined sewer overflow regulators to temporarily relieve some of the flow pressure until an engineering firm is secured.

Jones & Henry came back with a $160,000 quote for a three-phase project aimed at determining a plan of action.

Then the village administration decided to revisit the hiring issue. As a result, three of the four engineering firm finalists appeared before council Wednesday with revised pitches for the job and more detailed explanations of their services.

Jones & Henry slightly modified its first phase – which included a $34,000 desktop review of the system needed before getting into the study and the heart of the problems in the subsequent phases, the costs of which could be negotiated in the future.

“Jones & Henry is not here to bankrupt the Village of Oak Harbor. We are willing to work with you,” said Dan Miller, a company spokesman.

The firm also promised to try to persuade EPA officials in the next 60 to 90 days to possibly open up to four regulator valves that would ease flow in times of heavy downpours. And should the EPA balk at the request, they even suggested warning the EPA that the village will open two valves without permission because the overflows were endangering residents’ health and property – a clause which is stipulated in their permit.

CT Consulting offered a $60,000 contract which included a no feasible alternatives study as well as a working storm water management plan that included a computer model of the sewer system that the village could plug data into for various scenarios well into the future.

“We don’t want a paper study. That’s a snapshot in time. We want a working model,” said Dan Shutt, vice president of CT Consulting.

Feller, Finch and Associates firm quoted a $140,000 estimate for a four-phase project that could be modified for cost savings over the course of the year-long monitoring endeavor.

The second two firms were both quizzed on their plans to address the EPA about the overflow issue. The timelines ranged from six months to a year based on data collected.

Councilman Jim Seaman pointed out that he had only just learned it would cost up to $10,000 to reopen CSO  regulator 8.

“Opening a CSO is not just pulling a plug,” Mayor Bill Eberle explained. “There is some construction involved.

Seaman also warned that opening and closing costs for a large number of valves were not even previously considered by the finance committee. “It’s a brick wall,” he said, “that we could face in two months.”

“I’m trying to put myself in the place of the people out there,” new councilwoman Jackie Macko said. “Of the three, I have only heard aggressive action from Jones & Henry.”

Village wastewater plant superintendent Jerry Neff questioned all three engineering firms. He also adamantly declared to council that while opening the regulators would help, it was not the catch-all solution. Among the public, he said, there’s a false perception that it will fix the problem.

“When the regulators were opened before there still was flooding,” he added.

Marty Zeitzheim, a resident, stood up to say she had lived in her home 40 years and never had flooding before. Sewage flowed like a hose from her toilet, she explained. A diligent plumber who pumped from midnight to 5 a.m. helped her save her furnace. She had to pay $3,500 just for cleaning and plumbing services.

“We got a $60,000 to $100,000 problem that we need to find the money and solve the problem,” councilman Don Douglas said regarding the early stages of all the proposed contracts.

Pauley and the mayor both favored the CT Consulting proposal.

“It’s $60,000 – done and out the door,” Eberle noted.

Macko halted council discussion and directly addressed Pauley.

“I am sensing (you have) a problem with the first group,” Macko told Pauley regarding Jones & Henry.

Pauley claimed he did not and assured her any of the four finalists were good firms. He just felt the working computer model and all its attached services would fare better for the village.

Cheaper is not necessarily better, added Fickert. He also suspected the lower firm would have costs in the future that would end up matching the others.

The mayor cautioned that committing to Jones & Henry meant council would have to deal with finding another $120,000 for the contract in the next year.

“Once we set our feet to this, it’s going to cost, really cost,” the mayor added.

Jones & Henry’s aggressive attitude regarding immediate relief won over the council, members said.

Council asked Pauley to contact Jones & Henry the next day regarding signing a first phase contract not to exceed $35,000.  They also want a status update at the Jan. 21 council meeting.

Fickert said later he was happy with the decision.

“We’ve spent $10 million on a system that doesn’t work. And they are going to balk at a sum more than $100,000 that may help fix the problem,” he said to The Press. “I don’t get it. It doesn’t make sense.”

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