By Tim Cox
The approach Celina city officials will follow to correct the city's water problems is taking on clearer focus, not because of public input but because of pressure from the Ohio EPA.
City officials recently met with EPA engineers and enforcement officers to discuss the agency's findings and orders against the city. During that meeting, EPA officials made it clear that the city must bring its water into compliance with state regulations by November 2007. There were prior indications that the date could be renegotiated if the city was making good progress.
That order virtually forces city officials to follow a phased approach to making an estimated $14.5 million in improvements to the water plant. Kent Bryan, the city's community development consultant, said a phased approach also will buy time to secure grant assistance while satisfying the EPA.
If the city misses the November 2007 deadline, it would be subject to fines of up to $25,000 per day.
City officials discussed the latest EPA input during a city council utilities committee meeting Wednesday that preceded the third in a series of five public meetings on the issue. The meeting drew few newcomers; nearly everyone who attended had heard the presentation before. City council members at Monday's regular meeting will be asked to approve a two- to three-month pilot test using granulated activated carbon beds at the water treatment plant. The carbon pellets pull organic material out of the water.
Organic material in the water mixes with chlorine to form trihalomethanes, a material some studies have linked to several forms of cancer.
A pilot test is necessary so the city can determine how often the carbon would have to be replaced. Current estimates indicate it would cost $270,000 annually to use the technology.
The water plant also needs physical improvements and replacement of existing treatment equipment. Long-range plans also call for reverse osmosis and other treatment technology to be added.
But if city officials tackled the entire project at once, it would be years before the water met EPA standards.
"To say the least, that's not going to be acceptable to them," Bryan said.
"I don't see where we have any great choice in the matter," councilman Rick Bachelor said.
Implementing granulated activated carbon would cost about $2 million or so and would satisfy the EPA, even though the official findings and orders call for a new water plant. Bryan said EPA officials would strike that provision if city officials can get the water up to standards.
After the city is out from under EPA orders, city officials could proceed with the project on their own terms, Bryan said.
"We're in control of our timeframe. We're in control of our own destiny," Bryan said.
In a phased approach, the city could gain compliance and then hold off on other renovations for five to 10 years to seek grant money and explore all available options. City officials could even revisit the possibility of using groundwater instead of water from Grand Lake, even though that option poses numerous obstacles.
During a five-minute recess between the utility committee meeting and the public meeting, there was a terse exchange between a resident and a council member.
Resident Thomas Chivers, who criticized council members for not attending prior meetings on the water issue, brought the issue up again. He asked if council members at the committee meeting would be staying for the public meeting.
"Some will, some won't," council President Bill Sell told him.
Chivers scolded Sell and other council members for their lack of participation.
"You're spending taxpayers' money. Take some interest," Chivers chided.
"Don't lecture me, buddy," Sell responded.
The last two public meetings on the water issue are scheduled for Oct. 1 and Oct. 11.