EAST PALESTINE — Nearly six years after some residents first complained of sewer overflows in their basements, the village has decided how it will correct the problem.
Village council last week approved by a 5-1 vote to move ahead with a contract with MS Consultants on the project that will consist of the construction of a 1-million-gallon equalization (EQ) basin, also known as a storage tank.
The decision came after much deliberation among council on how to fix the problem without imposing a burden on utility customers.
The decision was a reversal of a decision council made in 2015 in which they felt that a rehabilitation of the system would work over the construction of an equalization basin, which MS has recommended for the last six years.
In 2011, MS estimated it would cost roughly $4.1 million for the EQ basin project, not including the 15 percent fee the company would also receive for their work on the project.
When council opted not to contract with MS back then, they turned to Lennon, Smith and Souleret (LS&S) Engineers, which also provided a proposal that included an EQ basin.
After comparing the two proposals, council decided that MS was offering the best option, and at a lower cost than LS&S.
The latest proposal from MS was for $5.58 million and included a $2.67 million EQ basin, a sanitary sewer overflow mitigation tank, treatment plant improvements including grit removal and a 400 kilowatt generator, a jet vac truck and contingencies.
The LS&S proposal included a $2 million EQ basin, but at only a half-a-million gallons compared to the 1-million gallon proposed by MS. The remaining bulk of the cost was for source flow reduction and conveyance, which the firm believes will help the village address inflow and infiltration problems.
Councilmen Brett Todd and Alan Cohen said the LS&S proposal left too many questions unanswered, and also noted that the firm has said that although it is proposing a half-a-million gallon tank now, it may need expanded to 1 million gallons in the future.
“I look at it as I’m still not comfortable with the work they are going to do out in the system,” Todd said of the flow reduction and conveyance. “They have not been very specific about it. Whether they can eliminate that much infiltration, I am not sure.”
Cohen noted that LS&S wasn’t able to tell the village how much it would be able to reduce the inflow and infiltration into the system.
With the exception of Councilman Don Elzer, all on council agreed that it was clear an EQ basin is necessary, and that the MS proposal was better.
The village has until June to show the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency it has made a decision on how to correct the problem. The EPA mandated the village correct the problem after hearing of residents’ complaints.
Elzer argued that between this project, the new water well project and the water meter project, the village is spending roughly $7.5 million but has no guarantee that the problems will be fixed completely.
Cohen countered that the projects will reveal the source of the problems through the process of elimination. “We are narrowing the focus. We are narrowing the field of vision,” he said.
Elzer also asked if utility rates would be increased to $15 to pay for the sewer project, to which Village Manager Pete Monteleone said it would be about $11 or $12 in all.
The village has discussed raising rates incrementally over time to help pay for the project.
Monteleone also pointed out the village is set to pay off debt in the next two years, and he would like to put the debt service money toward continuous improvements of the system.
The MS project will be financed through a 20-year loan, and Monteleone said the roughly $200,000 the village has already spent on gathering information to help make a decision has been rolled into that loan amount already.
Council approved a motion to move forward with MS. Legislation will be presented at the next meeting authorizing the village to enter into a contract with MS to begin the project.