Whether the motivation springs from the age of the plant or environmental concerns, quite possibly with the help of the Southern Ohio Port Authority, the city of Portsmouth seems ready to move forward with construction of a new water treatment plant in New Boston.
At a meeting of the SOPA board of directors Thursday, board members said they intend to use a $300,000 grant from the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency to clean up SOPA–owned property around the area. Board Chairman Robert Horton said there are 96 properties “all over the place” which could qualify for grant funding. However, Horton and the board all seemed to agree the number one priority is SOPA-owned land adjacent to the Portsmouth Water Treatment Plant, land they say is highly contaminated with leftovers from the property’s days as a steel mill plant.
Mentioned several times during the SOPA meeting, the biggest contaminant appears to be benzene, which, according to a Google search is a potentially cancer-causing agent and a common byproduct of producing the coke used in making steel. It is also an extremely common additive in most gasoline. SOPA officials indicated the levels of benzene in the ground of the SOPA property may be up to 15 times the legal limit.
Horton said SOPA needs to act quickly to take full advantage of the EPA grant.
“The EPA is pushing this hard,” Horton said. “We are way behind.”
SOPA board member Mark Ward indicated SOPA will need the cooperation of the city to move forward with cleaning up their property, adding SOPA cannot simply show up and “say, ‘let’s go.’”
“It’s a time-consuming process,” Ward added.
Horton and Ward both noted SOPA already has spent about $10,000 of the monies available to them. Horton indicated SOPA has or will possibly apply for additional grants if they are available.
“It’s very important to me to make this effort … I personally think it’s the right thing to do,” Horton said.
According to a SOPA map, the SOPA property sits between the water treatment plant and the Ohio River from which the treatment plan draws water. SOPA officials indicated lines running through their property had been reinforced to prevent contamination of the water inside those lines. It further was noted an intake pipe sits about 75 feet offshore from the SOPA property.
Horton talked a bit about construction of the Walmart store near the treatment plant. That store also was built on former steel mill plant property. That property was apparently simply capped over to allow construction of the retailer. Horton said in the case of land near the treatment plant he would prefer to see contaminated dirt removed and replaced.
Acting City Manager Sam Sutherland, who is also director of the water filtration plant for the city, confirmed Portsmouth officials are and have been looking into replacing the treatment plant. Portsmouth City Council recently introduced and is expected to pass an additional $65,000 to pay certain costs associated with preparing a preliminary design for the new plant. However, Sutherland said the age of the plant not any environmental contamination is driving the effort to replace the plant.
“Certainly, the New Boston coke plant property is contaminated,” Sutherland said. “Anybody who’s lived here for any amount of time knows that.”
Sutherland said the current plant dates to the 1950s. He said there were significant upgrades done in 1972 but noted technology has advanced considerably since that time.
As it stands now, the city’s plan is to utilize two acres of property adjacent to the existing facility. Sutherland added officials are looking into cutting edge technology which has the potential to greatly decrease the footprint required by any new plant. Regarding any contamination of that adjacent property, Sutherland said it was tested when the city purchased it in roughly the mid-2000s.
“Basically, you can build on top of it without a problem,” Sutherland added.
Sutherland insisted Portsmouth is under no OEPA mandate to clean up any property or replace the treatment plant, although he admitted a mandate regarding the latter may be on its way sooner than later.
“We are way past the useful life of that facility,” Sutherland stated.
According to Sutherland, officials have placed the cost of the new facility at between $17 million and $20 million. He promised Portsmouth will seek out every outside grant and funding source possible.
But Sutherland also talked about the need to look at Portsmouth water rates, mentioning potential incremental increases. Sutherland further argued Portsmouth may not have the time to wait for SOPA to clean up any property. He noted some remaining steel plant fixtures and buildings probably will need removed.