By Karen Cornelius
The Utilities Committee of city council met on Monday night, June 12, and were introduced to the new superintendent of the wastewater treatment plant, Randal Ohly. While he started his job at the beginning of this year, council members requested Mayor Eileen Bulan bring him to a meeting so they could meet him in person.
Superintendent Ohly told council he has been in this wastewater treatment industry most of his adult life starting as an operator in Rocky River, then director, and onto assistant supervisor at French Creek in North Ridgeville as well as working in Ashtabula, Columbus, and London. He said mayor Bulan asked him to step in and she was persistent convincing him to come out of a nine-year retirement. For the time being, he said he is working to get organized. He said he sees a lot of good news about the plant and a little not so good.
On the plus side, he does not think the city needs to worry about increasing capacity because they have enough for the future at 2.5 million gallons with an average between 2.1 million and 1.5 million average flow. What Ohly has been focused on for three months is updating EPA documents that were backlogged and late. Fortunately, he said Vermilion has received no ramnifications from the EPA so that is a good thing. Since January, the city has generated income from private septic haulers, and the odor complaints have dropped to next to none since changing the point of discharge by moving the location. The extra income has been about $10,000 per month. Ohly said they are monitoring mercury closely and if there ever were a problem, the haulers would be removed first.
On the other side, there are repairs to be made. He said there are 48 little grinder stations along the river bank and 11 lift stations in the city which have all been neglected so they are changing out pumps and motors as all these stations pump waste as well as at the plant. As far as personnel, there has been one retirement without a replacement and one upcoming retirement in September with that person taking time off he has to burn, so very few are left at the plant for maintenance, mowing, etc. “We need bodies,”said Ohly.
Also, the plant is lacking rehab, but it will not be done on his watch. He said it rains into the lower level and they cover machinery with plastic covers. The bar screen is 45 years old and needs replaced, and the air pumps are what he called, a trainwreck. “There’s real money and real work.” He said now that the funding for the EPA is in question due to the federal government and de-regulations, he’s not sure how much help the EPA will be. The Great Lakes Initiative is also in question as far as funding help.
Ohly also told council that he was filling this position as a favor to the mayor and would do it for two years. He said he would like to step aside in 2018, but would help train someone before he left. He advised the next mayor needed to keep this in mind. He stated that if anyone knows someone now, he would step aside.
Councilman Fred Ostrander asked if Ohly was aware that First Energy has some grants for providing more efficient equipment. Ohly said he would check it out because they needed electric motors. Councilman Jim Forthofer asked if they could increase the private haulers coming to Vermilion for more income. Ohly said he could, but not in the summer and boating season. He said he is trying to be sensitive to the neighborhood. He has six loads per day. He advised in 2018 the city may want to increase the hauler fees. Councilwoman Barb Brady asked if there were any trouble handling rain events. Ohly responded they are treating the waste. He said there was a lift station problem where there was an alarm failure and is now an insurance case. Now they have alarms on the alarms. He said the company is aware what happened was unacceptable.