Sebring council to mull water ordinances

By Peter H. Milliken


Village council will have two ordinances before it pertaining to the Sebring water-supply lead emergency declared by the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency when officials meet at 7 p.m. Monday in village hall.

If the measures are approved, they would be the first water-supply-related ordinances to be approved since Jan. 21, when the village issued the OEPA-required news release about elevated lead levels found in its water system last year.

The ordinances, both proposed for emergency passage, would retroactively approve contracts already entered into by village Manager Richard D. Giroux.

One ordinance would approve the temporary hiring of Donis Alpeter, a Class 3 water-treatment plant operator with 38 years of experience, as a full-time, $30-an-hour operator.

Alpeter’s service as an independent contractor, which began Monday, would be for 40 hours a week for 45 days, subject to renewal, Giroux said.

Alpeter replaces James V. Bates of Salem, against whom the OEPA initiated license-revocation proceedings and who has been barred by OEPA from serving as a treatment operator of record.

The OEPA accused Bates of performing his duties negligently or incompetently and in a manner that endangered public health and of “submitting misleading, inaccurate or false reports.”

Bates has emphatically denied falsifying reports.

OEPA Director Craig W. Butler has opened a state investigation, placed two of his Twinsburg regional office managers on paid administrative leave, and called for a U.S. EPA criminal investigation into matters pertaining to handling of the elevated Sebring water lead levels.

Brad Beeson, the Cleveland-based assistant U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio, who prosecuted Ben Lupo for directing the night-time dumping of oil-field waste into a Mahoning River tributary in Youngstown in 2012 and 2013, is working on the Sebring case.

Lupo, 65, is serving a 28-month sentence in a federal prison in Massachusetts for violating the federal Clean Water Act.

The other water-related ordinance going before council would retroactively approve a $23,000 contract Giroux entered into with W.E. Quicksall & Associates Inc. engineers of New Philadelphia for a corrosion-control study and short- and long-term water system remediation plan, which have already been submitted to the OEPA.

The public is being invited to comment at the beginning and end of the council meeting.

No state or federal EPA, and no county public-health or emergency-management officials are expected to address council Monday, said Malea Sanor, council clerk.

The meeting will follow OEPA’s announcement that recent water samples taken by the village from homeowners, who asked to have their tap water tested, show lead levels in the vast majority of homes are below the federal allowable limit.

Only nine of the 259 water samples collected since Jan. 21 tested above the federal allowable level of 15 parts per billion.

The first batch of voluntary residential samples, for which results were announced Wednesday, which are part of the total of 259, showed all 54 samples tested below 15 ppb.

The Ohio EPA has been working with the village to fine-tune its water-system chemistry to minimize leaching of lead into the water from corrosion of residential piping.

The Sebring treatment plant and its water source, which is the headwaters of the Mahoning River, have no detectable lead.

The village is still required to provide bottled water or filtration systems to homes where results are more than the federal allowable level and work with county officials to provide health screening for residents.

Free bottled-water distribution continues from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. today for Sebring water system customers at the Sebring Community Center, 305 W. Texas Ave.

The distribution will continue there from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday; 2 to 7 p.m. Tuesday; 7 a.m. to noon, Wednesday and Friday; and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. next Saturday. There will be no water distribution Sunday and Thursday.

The free water is limited to 1 gallon per person per day for up to a six-day supply.

Recipients will be required to have their tap water lead-tested and will be ineligible for free bottled water if their premises test OK.

The county health department recently conducted two blood lead level testing clinics in Sebring, where six of 209 people tested showed elevated lead levels.

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