Warren officials to talk Tuesday about wastewater lawsuit
By Ed Runyan
Law Director Greg Hicks will meet with Warren City Council members Tuesday to discuss a federal lawsuit filed in 2017 by an environmental group that alleged the city and the company Patriot Water Treatment were violating water rules.
FreshWater Accountablity Project of Grand Rapids, Ohio, listed chemical compounds the group said were found in the Warren wastewater-treatment system in recent years in excess of Clean Water Act standards, city ordinances and national standards.
Patriot has not discharged its wastewater into the city sewers since 2017, though it is still operating, its president, Andrew Blocksom said Wednesday. He declined to comment on the status of the lawsuit.
Patriot, which began operating in 2011 in the Warren Industrial Park on Sferra Drive Northwest, accepted wastewater from the gas and oil industry starting in 2011.
But unlike injection wells, Patriot treated the water and then discharged it into the city’s sewers. It then flowed into the city’s wastewater treatment plant on Main Avenue Southwest, where it was treated before being discharged into the Mahoning River.
Judge Benita Y. Pearson ruled Oct. 9 against the request of the city and Patriot Water that she rule in its favor without a trial on the grounds that Freshwater Accountability did not have standing to bring the action. FreshWater Accountability seeks the assessment of civil penalties and fees against the city and Patriot, as well as an order for them to stop polluting the Mahoning River.
The judge said the U.S. Clean Water Act authorizes private plaintiffs such as FreshWater Accountability to sue based on an alleged violation of a government order limiting discharges of wastewater into the environment.
The judge ruled FreshWater’s interest in enforcing the discharges is “well within the ‘zone of interests’ protected by the Clean Water Act.”
FreshWater offered the testimony of Girard resident Thomas Smith, a member of FreshWater Accountability, to show injuries that FreshWater has suffered as a result of the pollution of the river, including limits on Smith’s ability to kayak in parts of the river.
An expert witness hired by FreshWater Accountability testified in an affidavit that pollution from the city’s discharges could diminish a person’s ability to observe fish and other animals in the river.
There was no evidence that the discharges had dimished the river’s aquatic life, but the expert witness showed that harm is “imminent,” Judge Pearson ruled.
On the heels of that decision, Freshwater Accountability filed a memorandum Nov. 14 asking the judge to grant a judgment in its favor.
The judge has not ruled on it.