WARREN - Amid references to milligrams of total dissolved solids per liter of water and mandamus action to get state documents, a mother of three and a nurse of 48 years lent a human touch Thursday to a dispute over a wastewater permit renewal.
North Jackson resident Jennifer Bowell's voice broke occasionally as she told 70-plus at Warren G. Harding High School how her family was able to get off public aid after her husband, Dominic, found work on the mud press at Patriot Water Treatment LLC's Warren plant.
"It's the first time in 14 months we've been assistance-free," she told hearing officers for the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, which held a public hearing on renewing Warren's pollution discharge elimination permit that expires Jan. 31.
Residents, including North Jackson family, weighs the issues.
Comments by Bowell and others favoring looser terms for the permit renewal struck a chord with Carol Gottesman, a Liberty resident and lifelong nurse. She spoke at the hearing of her concerns about elevated levels of salt and other contaminants that would be discharged into the Mahoning River if the proposed pollution limit is raised.
After the hearing, she said she saw "people who work here and heard their perspective. There are so many issues that we need to know. I want to put the needs of people and nature above the needs of polluters."
Tom Angelo, the Warren Water Pollution Control Department director battling environmental regulators over a discharge limit in the permit renewal he says is too strict and would hurt employers, said the community rallied behind the cause.
Jennifer Bowell of North Jackson speaks at a public hearing Thursday for better terms in renewal of Warren’s wastewater discharge permit. Listening are husband Dominic, left, and sons Maxius, 6, second from right, and Devon, 9, right. PHOTO BY R. MICHAEL SEMPLE
"It's rare that you get a subject that motivates the region to speak with one voice. I think the message was consistent," he said.
The overwhelming message that Ohio EPA hearing officer Kristopher Weiss heard was that limiting the Warren wastewater treatment plant to a maximum of 622 milligrams of total dissolved solids - basically salt - would raise costs for area businesses, including major employers like the General Motors Co. Lordstown Complex auto plants, auto parts supplier Delphi Packard Electrical/Electronic Architecture and Patriot Water.
Angelo said the level would force companies to invest millions of dollars to build their own water pretreatment plants before sending the water to Warren to be discharged into the Mahoning River.
GM Lordstown Environmental Engineer Michael O'Hara said the automaker would like the 622 milligram level be replaced by a "reasonable limit" determined by a science-based study.
Martin Cristo, Delphi's environmental manager, said the company "strongly asks that the Ohio EPA provide more scientific evidence" to reach a reasonable limit.
EPA spokesman Chris Abbruzzese said Wednesday the EPA conducted a study from December 2010 to December 2011 to determine the limit. He said the results were included in a fact sheet issued with a draft of the permit.
Angelo and attorney April Bott, who represents Warren and Patriot in their dispute with regulators, said they saw no study in the fact sheet. Bott added state officials have been slow to respond to her requests for information.
"We've had to file a mandamus action to get any public documents from the Ohio EPA," she said, referring to a legal process to order a public body to do something required by law. "We've not seen a study. The public process is flawed and has to start over."
Angelo said the Ohio EPA's number came from two tests, one in April 2010, when some large companies were not at full operations due to a deep recession, and the other in October 2010.
Abbruzzese noted communities along the Mahoning River have a tougher restriction than others around the state because the river flows into Pennsylvania, which limits dissolved solids to 500 milligrams per 1,000 liters of water.
Angelo countered that Pennsylvania passed new rules that exempt discharges authorized before Aug. 21, 2010. Also exempt is the mining industry, which Angelo said is the largest non-oil and gas industry source of dissolved solids.
"Ohio is imposing a limit on Mahoning River dischargers that is not imposed on existing Pennsylvania dischargers who contribute to the Mahoning River and Beaver River watersheds. This is not reasonable," he wrote in a letter sent Wednesday to the Ohio EPA.
Weiss said verbal and written comments will be reviewed by Ohio EPA Director Scott Nally before rendering a decision.
The ruling can be appealed to the Ohio Environmental Review Appeals Commission, then to the Franklin County Court of Appeals and ultimately the Ohio Supreme Court, he said.