By Karen Cornelius
On Monday, March 13, the Utilities Committee of city council decided to table its ongoing discussion on the Regional Water Study which advised Vermilion to close its water plant and purchase water from Huron through Erie County or from Northern Ohio Rural Water or even from the city of Lorain. They voted to table any decision until there is more accurate information on the condition of the plant’s Lake Erie intake and the costs the city of Lorain might offer.
Mayor Eileen Bulan reported to the committee that Lorain has not determined its cost for Vermilion to purchase water from them. She said it would probably be another couple of weeks. Utilities chair Barb Brady said this decision concerning the Vermilion water plant just haunts her. “It’s a huge decision to make, and the numbers are still confusing,” said Brady. She said that finance director Brian Keller and councilman Fred Ostrander have been working on their own numbers which do not agree with the CT Consultant’s numbers. She said the elephant in the room is the plant’s intake and questions about the necessity of constructing a new one for $5 million. Before considering a new intake, a study could be required at a cost of $248,000. These figures were from CT.
Chair Brady stated that water plant superintendent Eugene Baker indicated that the EPA could accept putting a camera through the current intake to determine its condition. This could be enough to satisfy the EPA rather than going forward with an expensive study. Brady suggested they take the regional water study off the table and put any discussion on the back burner waiting to see what will satisfy the EPA which earlier indicated Vermilion’s intake was deficient.
Councilman Ostrander said the other concern is the plant’s water loss which is now quoted at 35 percent, He said this water really isn’t lost, and the city bills 65 percent. The loss is probably because of the fire department’s usage and usage in the city buildings which have no meters. It’s just not billed. He said the plant produces 1.2 million gallons per day. He was looking at 2016 real numbers and they don’t add up if the city uses the study’s numbers. Councilman Jim Forthofer wasn’t sure about the numbers either and didn’t want to risk going into a deal too quickly and closing the plant. “If we close it, we can’t go back,” said Forthofer.
Council president Steve Herron said the people manning the plant are doing a fantastic job working with the EPA and have had to put up with management changes in the last few years making the stress level great and working long hours. “They have served the community well. I have no problem taking regional water off the table. We have to see if our intake passes inspection and also have to see Lorain’s cost,” said Herron. “It’s taxpayer money and a difficult situation.”
From the audience, superintendent Baker said he has spoken to the EPA about the intake. He will have a camera take a video through the intake and give it to an engineer to evaluate and make a recommendation. He said the EPA’s response was “That’s all we can ask you to do.” Baker said if the engineer sees no problems, he can’t justify $5 million for a new intake. “Our plant is too small.” Baker said the holdup to inspect the intake is the dive team which is tied up right now. He said its Dixon Engineering that would evaluate the video. He hopes the inspection can start in May. The EPA deadline for a determination of the intake’s condition is July. Baker estimated the cost to be around $10,000.
Councilman Forthofer asked if there is anything else major other than the intake. Baker answered that the plant is in good shape. He has been there 30 years and knows it’s running smoothly. City engineer Lynn Miggins commented that working with the EPA is like playing good cop, bad cop on TV shows. She said it’stressful and their decisions can be unbalanced at times. You have to know who is serious and who is not about directives. She said those at the plant are doing the best job they can under the circumstances.
The committee unanimously passed a motion to table discussion until there is more information coming from Baker and the mayor. Councilman Forthofer stated that it is still council’s responsibility to check out all the alternatives, but not in a hurry. Superintendent Baker added that it is still critical that Vermilion upgrade its distribution system. He referred to a water rate increase so citizens could give the money to replace the antiquated distribution lines. “It’s a brave thing to do, mayor,” said Baker referring to the administration’s decision to increase the water rate.
From the audience, Ken Cassell asked if the EPA would wait if council put their decision on hold. Herron said first an engineer will make a determination on the intake and see if it’s substantial for the future. Cassell said back 30 years ago there was a Poggemeyer study indicating Vermilion should buy water from Lorain or Elyria. He wondered how much money has been spent at the plant since then. He advised council to pursue all the options, and not let this go on for another year or more.