Tuesday, September 11, 2018
By: Jessica Hardin
With a subject as complex as sewage infrastructure, it’s nearly impossible to determine where the buck stops when there is a problem.
This made for an especially tense meeting Monday night when representatives from the state, Mahoning County, village council and the community discussed sewage backup experienced by Water Street residents.
In the aftermath of the Aug. 10 rain, Karen and Jerry Stare cleaned sewage backup out of their basement for the third time since 2011.
“I live on Sewer Street, formerly known as Water Street,” Jerry Stare said.
The primary source of their anger is that they communicated these issues to the county sanitary engineering department in 2011, and not much has changed.
“What was done to analyze our problem in the last seven years?” Karen Stare asked.
Pat Ginnetti, county engineer, described the source of the problem: the Mahoning Valley’s aging sewer system. Because of the way the system was built, when it rains excessively, storm water flows into the sanitary system, causing sewage backup in homes.
“We have 830 miles of pipes and serve 40,000 people. No one here is negligent. There’s not enough money to fix the system all at once,” Ginnetti said.
The situation is further complicated by the fact that sanitary engineers cannot address issues with pipes on private property.
The county has addressed this through a backflow control program, which reimburses residents for up to half the cost of a combination backwater valve and sump pump.
But the valves offer an imperfect solution. For manual valves, residents have to be home to close the valve during a storm. In addition, while valves are closed, residents cannot use water.
“This weekend, our neighbors who have a valve went three days without water because of the rain,” Karen Stare said.
For those who don’t want to wait for the county to slowly update the area’s sewage infrastructure project by project, the only other option is to take the matter into their own hands.
County Commissioner David Ditzler told village residents that issues with flooding at his mother’s house inspired his foray into politics. He attended an Austintown trustee meeting in June 1993 armed with literature mapping flood-prone areas.
“I had one of the trustees tell me, ‘If you think you can do a better job, run for office and fix it,’” Ditzler said. So he did.
“It is incumbent upon the local communities to work on storm water retention. You have to look for ways to help yourself,” he said.
Jason Wilson, director of Gov. John Kasich’s Office of Appalachia, suggested that the community seek help from the Appalachian Regional Commission. “We have to have partners. We can’t just do it alone,” said Wilson.
State Rep. John Boccieri of Poland, D-59th, voiced his support for local collaboration, saying that efforts must be made from the “ground up” not the “state down.” He offered as an example the creation of a water district, as some Valley communities have done.
As community members pointed fingers at the people in the room, Boccieri identified a systemic threat to the area’s aging infrastructure.
He also pointed to the slashing of local government funds on the state level.
”The job of local officials has been made harder,” he said.