WARREN - Area communities and at least one business rallied Tuesday around Warren's efforts to stop environmental regulators from imposing a tougher pollution limit on wastewater discharged into the Mahoning River without first doing a study.
"If Warren gets a mandate to pick up the tab, that gets passed on to us," Arno Hill, newly elected mayor of Lordstown Village, said about the tighter limit the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency wants on total dissolved solids - chiefly salt - that Warren puts into the river. "It could be the first of a one-two punch."
"We're concerned. If they get this, there's a good chance we'll get the same restriction," said Howard Zickefoose, acting superintendent of Girard's Wastewater Pollution Control plant, which soon will treat wastewater from the massive steel pipe mill that V&M Star is building across U.S. Route 422.
Tom Angelo talks to community leaders about EPA water permits
Business officials at the lunch declined to talk, but auto parts maker Delphi Packard Electrical / Electronic Architecture sent a letter opposing the limit due to the "potentially serious impact such limit would have on our operations." It urged a science-based study be done first.
No spokesman for the Ohio EPA could be reached for comment Tuesday.
The lunch meeting, held two days before a public hearing at 6 p.m. Thursday, drew about 85 representatives from communities and manufacturers that produce or treat wastewater that flows into the Mahoning River as it winds eastward from Newton Falls in western Trumbull County into Pennsylvania.
Warren, which sponsored the lunch at Enzo's Restaurant, faces the Jan. 31 expiration of its permit to discharge cleaned water from its wastewater treatment plant into the river.
The problem, city officials say, is the new permit sets a ceiling of 622 milligrams of dissolved solids per 1,000 liters of water that Warren can put into the river. The statewide limit is 1,500 milligrams, but the Mahoning River ceiling is lower because it flows into Pennsylvania, which imposes a lower requirement at the border.
The regulation wouldn't take effect until May 1, 2013, which Warren's Water Pollution Control Department Director Tom Angelo said isn't a lot of time if companies are forced to invest millions of dollars into pretreatment plants.
Angelo told the group that the state EPA didn't base its limit on a study but on tests in April 2010 and October 2010.
He said the April test showed lower-than-normal solid discharge because it came when some major area factories, including RG Steel, weren't fully operating as they recovered from a deep recession.
Warren pollution officials didn't do daily tests of dissolved solids until December 2010, Angelo said. Testing that month - done after factories returned to full operations - showed the city exceeded the new limit at 743 milligrams of dissolved solids per 1,000 liters of water.
In order to reduce Warren's discharge to the limit, Angelo said companies such as RG Steel, the General Motors Co. Lordstown auto plants, Delphi Packard and others would have to pretreat their wastewater before sending it to Warren.
Angelo said he doesn't oppose limits but does oppose limits that aren't based on science. He urged area officials to attend Thursday's public hearing at Warren G. Harding High School to voice their opinion of the new standard.
Patriot Water Treatment LLC in Warren, which is embroiled in a separate legal dispute with state regulators over its permit to treat low salt, muddy water from shale gas drilling sites, paid for and helped organize the lunch, Patriot President Andrew Blocksom said.
"This is a serious stuff. Everyone needs to join hands," he said.