Anti-fracking activists say Niles residents need evacuation plan

By Ed Runyan


A handful of members of the environmental group Frackfree Mahoning Valley left fliers at homes on the city’s south side urging residents to investigate the need for an evacuation plan for their neighborhood.

The handbills advise residents of about a dozen residential streets of the “clear and present danger” the group says they would face if the Meander Dam, a short distance south of their homes, were to experience a “catastrophic collapse.”

“Most homes on the south side of Niles ... are 70 feet lower than the water level at the dam,” the flier says. “The dam is 90 years old and is in need of repairs.”

The leaflet advises residents and people associated with Niles Middle School close by to call their ward councilman, the mayor and other officials to ask about an evacuation plan.

John Williams of Youngstown, who organized the leaflet campaign, said Thursday he doesn’t have any scientific evidence to support his concerns about the dam experiencing a collapse, but everybody he speaks with seems to agree that an evacuation plan for the area is a good idea.

The trouble is finding anyone who will take responsibility for writing a plan, he said.

Williams has been talking about a dam collapse for several years, but he has ramped up his efforts since learning a judge in Franklin County has ruled an injection well owned by American Water Management Services in Weathersfield Township blamed for causing small earthquakes in 2014 should be allowed to reopen.

The ODNR, which shut down the well in 2014 after the seismic events occurred, recently filed a document with the court offering a proposed set of parameters under which the injection well could reopen.

The document also contains a reference to the dam, noting the Mahoning Valley Sanitary District is studying whether cracks in the structure could be related to seismic events.

Steven Kilper, vice president of AWMS, said the premise of the leaflets – that the AWMS injection well might harm the dam – is flawed.

He points to a chart on the ODNR website showing the strongest seismic event that was recorded near the AWMS well, a 2.1, doesn’t cause damage to any structures.

Mayor Thomas Scarnecchia said he would take a copy of the leaflet with him when he attends the MVSD meeting today and will ask officials there to discuss any danger to the dam posed by small earthquakes.

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