Unanticipated projects stress Sanitary Engineer’s office
By Justin Wier
It’s only May, but the Mahoning County Sanitary Engineer’s office has already taken on four unexpected projects to the tune of $2 million.
“These were all emergencies. These were all unplanned,” said Bill Coleman, who manages the office. “It’s been quite a challenge.”
At Thursday’s meeting, the Mahoning County commissioners approved $158,181 in spending to address two collapsed pipes – one in Poland and one under Interstate 76 in Milton Township.
The sanitary engineers also need to address a collapse near the new Panera Bread development at South Avenue and U.S. Route 224 and reline 3,500 feet of pipe in Poland to prevent future collapses.
The latter project, for which the county will seek bids, will cost an estimated $1.6 million.
The Sanitary Engineer’s office budgeted $28.8 million for 2018. Only about $650,000 of the budget goes toward maintenance and larger equipment purchases. The majority of the budget goes toward utilities, personnel, chemical purchases and other recurring costs.
The office also has access to a $4 million replacement fund for expenditures to extend the life of the waste-treatment system. Coleman said the county may consider borrowing to cover the unexpected expenditures.
Thus far, the collapses have not impacted service to residents or created environmental issues.
“That’s where we’ve been fortunate,” Coleman said.
The county was able to contain a backup near the Poland library, he said.
Coleman attributed the failures to the age of the county’s waste system and the high levels of hydrogen sulfide in the county’s wastewater. Hydrogen sulfide can eat away at concrete pipe over time.
Some of the county’s concrete pipes are between 25 and 30 years old. The system dates back to 1922.
“We’re at a point where the system needs to be replaced,” Coleman said.
The county’s problems are indicative of a larger, nationwide infrastructure crisis that includes not only roads and bridges but sewer systems and waterlines as well.
“This is a reality the government is dealing with,” he said. “We’re trying to be proactive, but the funding’s not there.”
The Sanitary Engineer’s office recently has directed its focus toward upgrading its waste-treatment plants.
Coleman said the closure of the New Middletown plant – slated for later this year – necessitated $20 million in additional projects.
The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency ruled that the New Middletown plant discharges too much waste to maintain water-quality standards in Honey Creek, which necessitated the planned closure.
The office has worked to obtain grant funding, but Coleman said it’s difficult to prioritize projects.
“It’s a challenge every day trying to figure out the best and most economically efficient approach,” he said.