Ohio EPA fines Warren $83,000 over wastewater plant violations

WARREN — Because of multiple violations found at the city’s Water Pollution Control plant from May 2014 to June 2018, Warren will have to pay $83,000 in fines to the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency and begin a multimillion-dollar improvement plan, which has been in the planning stage for more than a year.

The draft of a final report and order from the Ohio EPA about the condition of Warren’s Water Pollution Control plant indicates the city violated its permit on 84 different dates from May 2014 to June 2018.

“The fines were issued because it was found the plant went over its exceedances allowed by its permit,” said Ed Haller, Director of Water Pollution Control. “The EPA found that the city was not taking care of the plant.”

It was retired Waste Water Treatment Plant Director Tom Angelo’s Feb. 8, 2018, complaint to the Ohio EPA that caused the investigation that is leading to the fine.

While agreeing with Angelo there are issues that must be addressed, the agency in its findings criticized the former director for not taking the necessary actions while he led the department to correct problems that led to the plant’s current problems.

Angelo, who worked at the wastewater treatment plant from 1984 to 2014, filed a complaint to the state agency stating the Warren Wastewater Treatment Plant has not been operating in compliance with Ohio’s water pollution control laws. The complaint requested the Ohio EPA investigate whether the plant has been operating in a manner that violates EPA mandates.

“I never had an $83,000 fine during the nearly 15 years I was the director of the department,” Angelo said. “There was a compliance inspection done in September 2014, the year I left, and the plant was in good condition. Now, four years later, how can they say it was my fault?”

In the complaint, Angelo stated the plant’s No. 5 settling tank was out of service from 2014 through 2017. He asked the Ohio EPA to determine whether the final clarifiers are overloaded and are experiencing operational issues.

Ohio EPA officials inspected the city’s Water Pollution Control Plant three times in 2018, according to the report. Seven different city officials — past and present — were interviewed.

During an April 5, 2018, visit, it was determined the plant’s condition was poor. Only one of its five primary clarifiers was fully operational. Generally, three are needed to be operational during normal flow conditions, according to the report.

Paul Geist, chief mechanic of the wastewater treatment plant, told inspectors the clarifiers should have been replaced 20 years ago.

Geist said the problem with primary clarifier No. 5 was Angelo tying a grit station to the tank, according to the report. The weight of the grit stretches the chain, which causes it to break.

The bar screens on the primary clarifiers are worn out, which allows debris, including rags, plastics and paper, to pass through, according to the report.

Mike Welke, superintendent of the plant, said the screens should have been replaced in 2009.

Welke, according to the report, asked Angelo to replace the screens, but was refused because of budgetary concerns.

Geist said the screens were rebuilt since Haller took over, but they need to be replaced again.

“The consensus of the plant’s staff is that during his tenure as director, Mr. Angelo did not implement an effective preventive maintenance program and did not upgrade equipment when necessary,” according to the Dec. 18 Ohio EPA report. “Mr. Angelo’s strategy was to repair equipment only when it broke down, which has led to the wastewater plant needing extensive upgrades.”

The report adds the poor condition of the plant cannot solely be placed on Haller.

“Treatment components that are currently out of service should have been upgraded / replaced before Mr. Haller was given the position of director,” the report states.

Angelo said the plant’s condition is a result of the poor leadership and mismanagement of the current director and administration, not anything that was done during his tenure at the department, which ended in 2014.

“I’ve made numerous requests from the city and from the Ohio EPA for documents that will support my positions, but I have not been able to get them,” Angelo said. “There are maintenance records I have not been able to obtain. I believe they are working together to stop me.”

Ohio EPA has ordered the city to begin its Capital Improvement Plan as quickly as possible, including refurbishing its primary settling tanks 1 through 3 and the installation of density current baffles in the four final clarifiers.

The city has developed a $70 million multi-phase plan to upgrade the plant, according to Haller. The first phase is expected to cost approximately $24 million.