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GIRARD DAM State could step in after deadline



Published: Mon, February 14, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



The city and Department of Natural Resources say safety is the main concern.

GIRARD -- An official for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources says the state would move before the November 2006 deadline to do something about the dam on Lower Girard Lake, if any steps in the city's agreement with the state aren't met by the appropriate time.

"I don't think we would wait that long," Mark Ogden, administrator for the division of water, said. "That dam is a danger to people."

Ogden explained the state will be watching closely to see that the city meets the interim deadlines to which it agreed. Among them is having a having a real plan in place by this summer, spelling out the steps it will follow to solve the problem.

Deadlines

The dam was built in 1918 and is showing its age. To comply with the state's order, the city's choices appear to be to fix it or to raze it. Girard doesn't have the money to do either, and city council has met one of the deadlines by voting in December to seek federal funds to repair the dam.

"We have told ODNR we want to repair it and have asked the U.S. for funds," said John Moliterno, at-large city council member. He said they have already sought help from U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan of Niles, D-17th, and Ohio Sens. George Voinovich and Michael DeWine.

"We actually made the request in early 2004," he said.

Moliterno said the city is filling out the paperwork once again to ask Ryan, Voinovich and DeWine to attach a dam appropriation to Congress' Omnibus Water Bill. Such a step lives up to the agreement with the state.

"They haven't missed any interim deadlines so far," said ODNR's Ogden.

However, if the rest of the schedule is not met, Ohio's attorney general can file a complaint to get things moving.

Mayor James Melfi thinks that even if federal money were available immediately, meeting the state's final deadline is impossible. Given the financial straits facing the city from every angle, "there's no way we're going to meet a deadline on any project," he said.

And he shares the state's concern about safety.

Safety issues

"I don't want to frighten people. I'm not an expert, but experts have said it's unsafe," Melfi said.

The lakes were purchased in 1995 so that Girard could get out from under the thumb of the Mahoning Valley Sanitary District, and have its own water supply. However, Melfi said, it would take a $40 million filtration plant to make that possible.

Moliterno said he's heard a cost of $25 million. When it comes to discussing a filtration plant, he said, "numbers are all over the board."

The city -- in official fiscal emergency since August 2001 -- doesn't have the $40 million or $25 million for a filtration plant, nor does it have the estimated $3.5 million to lower the dam and shore it up and shrink the lake, the mayor said. It doesn't have the estimated $1.1 million it would take to breach the dam and get rid of the lake, he noted.

In the U.S. budget for fiscal year 2005, a DeWine spokesperson said, his office secured $500,000 for the city in the Energy and Water bill.

Moliterno said that the city appreciates the effort, "but it doesn't do us any good." The half-million dollars can be used only to repair the dam, not destroy it, Moliterno said. And the city has no idea how to come up with the other $3 million.

Problems

The two specific problems with the 87-year-old dam, according to the state are:

UIt doesn't have an adequate spillage facility to keep the lake from becoming full and ease the pressure of the water against the dam.

UThe concrete is not stable enough to hold back the water if the lake were to become full.

Ogden said Girard is not the only city in the state with problems like this, but it has one of the worst situations. The division regulates 1700 dams and prioritizes the ones that need attention based primarily on the danger to people downstream.

The danger to people downstream puts the Girard dam near the top of the state's priority list, too.

Girard has tried to prevent danger from what Ogden called "wrong set of circumstances" by draining the lake into the Mahoning River, but that doesn't really help, he noted.

"Even in a drained state, it fills back up quickly," Ogden said, adding that Girard really needs to keep lower levels in both of its lakes.

Draining the lower lake periodically creates a better situation, but it is still not safe, he said. "They need to take action."

Action, for now, rests in Washington, D.C. A Voinovich spokesman explained that there is not money in the president's budget for the Girard dam, but that could change over the next month or so.

Federal money appears to be the key to meeting the state's orders.

"If the federal government wants to rebuild the dam, fine, but we're struggling to get on our feet," Melfi said.

"I understand that's what they are hoping for," Ogden said, "but we just want it to be safe."




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