Youngstown City Council to act on $3M contract for $240M wastewater project

YOUNGSTOWN — Despite Youngstown’s ongoing court fight to kill a required wet weather facility as part of a federal wastewater improvement agreement, city council is expected Wednesday to approve a $3 million consultant contract for preliminary design work for the project.

The design work would analyze and develop alternative control measures for a combined sewer overflow at the confluence of Crab Creek and the Mahoning River near downtown. The ordinance would authorize the board of control to enter into the contract.

Council was prepared May 1 to approve the legislation, but it didn’t have enough members in attendance to pass it by emergency measure.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency wants the city to build a wet weather facility, which is a physical building that would be located near the wastewater treatment plant. The facility would treat excess combined sewage during heavy rainstorms and then release the water.

Charles Shasho, deputy director of public works, said the city believes the wet weather facility is too costly and there are less-expensive alternatives.

The city is in federal court urging a judge to reduce the scope of the work after failing to convince the federal government the improvement work needs changes.

The city wants to take the initial steps to get a wet weather project designed as it awaits the outcome of the lawsuit, Shasho said.

Modifications to the mandated wet weather facility are at the heart of the city’s objection to its federal consent decree.

The city on March 15 asked Christopher A. Boyko, a senior federal judge, to reduce the scope of the wet water facility project.

The cost of that project, which would reduce combined sewer overflows, “skyrocketed” from $62 million in 2002 to more than $240 million under an estimate done by a city-hired expert, according to the March 15 court motion filed by Terrence S. Finn, an attorney with the Roetzel & Andress law firm representing the city in this case.

The city offered to build a storage bin, which would be smaller and less expensive than a wet weather facility, to hold flow during a storm event and then release it back into the system as one option to the wet weather facility. Another option is adding a less expensive treatment facility at the city’s wastewater treatment plant to provide the same level of control, according to Finn’s court motion.

The city hasn’t provided a cost estimate for either option, and Finn wrote it could do one or both projects.

U.S. Department of Justice attorneys wrote in an April 14 motion, “Youngstown’s proposal would swap the defined project it agreed to complete for a mere placeholder for one of several potential underbaked alternatives.”

They added, “Youngstown has not clearly described the alternatives, estimated their cost or evaluated their performance,” and the cost increase is the result of “the snowballing consequences of the city’s own decision to unilaterally suspend work at the wet water facility at least five years ago.”

Finn responded in an April 22 filing the federal government “does not present any evidence to dispute the drastic increase in the cost of the WWF project. Rather, the United States mischaracterizes facts, improperly applies the modification standards and misconstrues the requirement of the CSO (combined sewer overflows) policy and the objectives of the consent decree.”

The city is seeking to alter the consent decree it signed in 2014 with the U.S. EPA to do $160 million worth of improvements to its wastewater system over a 20-year period because of a major increase in costs as well as the projects being “significantly oversized and no longer effective,” according to Finn’s legal filing.

The first phase, which is finished, was upgrading the city’s wastewater treatment plant.

The initial estimate was $37.3 million, but Finn’s court filing said it cost Youngstown $70 million.

The wet water facility was supposed to be the second phase and was required to start Feb. 7, 2022.

The city bypassed that phase and approved $4.8 million on March 15 for design work to the third phase. That phase is an interceptor sewer project to keep wastewater from 13 lines from flowing into Mill Creek Park.

Design work was supposed to start July 11, 2020, and construction was to begin April 5.

The city missed those deadlines, but plans a compressed schedule and to finish the work 15 months earlier than the initial timeline.

That phase was estimated to cost $47.7 million and will now cost $72.5 million, according to Finn’s court filing.

The DOJ’s April 15 court motion asks Boyko to dismiss the city’s request.

The DOJ also continues to demand half of a $1.4 million penalty from the city for defaulting on following through with the mandated wastewater improvements for more than two years.

Half of the penalties — $739,500 — was to be paid to the federal EPA with the Ohio EPA allowed to make demand for the other half.

A March 29 court filing from Mark J. Navarre, assistant Ohio attorney general in its environmental enforcement division on behalf of the Ohio EPA, stated Youngstown should be permitted to move ahead with collecting information for alternatives to the wet weather facility.

Have an interesting story? Contact David Skolnick by email at dskolnick@vindy.com. Follow him on X, formerly Twitter, @dskolnick.


Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)
Are you a paying subscriber to the newspaper? *

Starting at $2.99/week.

Subscribe Today