ENVIRONMENT USDA extends deadline for Lake Milton project

The project awaits a new cost estimate from the county sanitary engineer.
LAKE MILTON -- The United States Department of Agriculture delivered some good news to citizens of Lake Milton -- they won't lose $13 million in federal grants and loans.
The USDA said it will extend the deadline for use of the money for a water and sewer project beyond the current Dec. 12 deadline.
About 125 residents attended a panel discussion at the Lake Milton Fire Station Thursday evening to discuss the water and sewer project with representatives from several government agencies.
The water and sewer project, when completed, will clean Lake Milton to Environmental Protection Agency standards and create a water and sewer system for most of the community, including 1,300 homes in Milton and Jackson townships and Craig Beach.
Ten years ago, the EPA deemed that unsafe discharge had been flowing into Lake Milton. However, the project has been on hold longer than any other project in the Mahoning County Sanitary Engineer's office.
The meeting
Mahoning County commissioners David Ludt, John McNally and Anthony Traficanti were present. Paul Wolf, president of the Lake Milton Association, attended the discussion, along with Connie Bellino from the Lake Milton Utilities Commission, Larry Ellis, mayor of Craig Beach, and Sue Lemmon, a Milton Township trustee.
The Mahoning County Sanitary Engineer's Office did not send a representative or a statement. Kelly Hettick, an area USDA representative for community and business programs, did not attend, but his statements were read by McNally. U.S. Rep. Ted Strickland, D-6th, was unable to attend, but sent statements with spokesperson Anthony Trevera.
Mary Ann Gardner and Suzanne Baker represented Citizens for Responsible Government, the group which organized the discussion.
"This discussion is not to cast blame or hear excuses. Just tell us that you've secured the money and have a date set," Baker said.
However, none of the representatives could give a definite answer. A date has not been set and there are more waiting periods to face.
"I'm as frustrated as you. I'm going to do everything in my position and power to push this issue," said Traficanti. "You deserve this."
The grant was approved by Congress in 2000 with the help of former U.S. Congressman James Traficant.
"The problem is, there are too many fingers in this project. It has created a conundrum, politically and economically," Traficanti said. "All levels of bureaucracy are involved. But the county will do all that we can."
Time factors
In its statement, the USDA said it can't award contracts until funding is secured and that it's waiting for the Mahoning County Sanitary Engineer's office to submit a new cost estimate for the project, McNally said.
Once this estimate is submitted, the county will be able to prepare a bid package and secure funding.
"We can't speed up some of the procedural issues, other than personally walking documents from person to person and driving to Columbus," McNally said. "So we intend and promise to do that."
The USDA's statement also said that if the citizens of the area could find alternate parking during construction and create construction routes, it would speed up the process.
Several citizens questioned whether the money that was awarded had earned any interest, and if so, where that interest would be going.
The citizens suggested that if interest had been earned on the money, it would compensate for inflation and make the project realistically fit into the budget that was set in 2000.
Officials did not know if the money was earning interest and said they would get back to the citizens with an answer at the next meeting, or sooner.
The next meeting for the Lake Milton water and sewer issue will be held at the Lake Milton Fire Station Aug. 9, with officials invited to attend again. Drawings for the project will be presented to residents.

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