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GM, county talk sewer tie-in

Battery-cell plant operator pursuing access to former plant’s existing lines

WARREN — Tapping into county sanitary sewer lines costs a homeowner $1,800, but the tap-in fee for the new battery-cell plant in Lordstown could put General Motors on the hook for nearly $2 million.

GM and the Trumbull County Sanitary Engineer’s Office have been discussing different ways to connect the $2 billion next-gen joint venture with South Korean company LG Chem to the county sewer system.

Two options are being considered, and tap-in fees could be waived altogether, officials said.

In the option most preferred by the company, according to county Engineer Randy Smith, the sanitary lines would connect to the county by going through the connection established at the old GM plant, which is near the new one being constructed on state Route 45.

The tie-in fee for that option originally was pegged at $2.8 million, but a redesign brought costs down to about $1.8 million, Smith said at a meeting Tuesday with county commissioners and other sanitary engineer office employees.

One of the benefits of having the connection there is the lines take waste away by gravity alone, Bob Maiorano, controller for the office said. That means waste will still be able to leave the plant in case of a power outage, he said.

The high cost of the tie-in fee led to discussions of another way.

If the new lines were connected via state Route 45, a pump station would have to be upgraded to handle the load. That and other improvements would cost around $900,000, but the tie-in fees would be waived because of an agreement with Lordstown waiving the fees in the village.

Matt Blair, attorney for the sanitary sewer office, said it isn’t clear if the agreement waiving the tap-in fees in the village is legal, but it is in place.

“The problem with the state Route 45 site is that we would need about $1 million dollars worth of improvement. That would be charged to GM. So there would be most likely no tap-in fee, but they would still be on the hook for the $1 million improvements,” Commissioner Mauro Cantalamessa said.

The pump station pushes the waste uphill until the lines get to a point where gravity takes over, Maiorano said.

The new work could offer benefits to the village and the county by increasing the availability of sewer lines.

When the sanitary office suggested the tie-in fees might be waived if they pursue the first option, the company once again preferred to tie in to the old GM site.

And, Blair said, there was a provision in GM’s 1964 contract with the county that waived tie-in fees for the company then on all-new construction. It isn’t clear if that contract would apply to the new joint venture, Blair said.

County Commissioner Frank Fuda said he does not support waiving the fees, which are calculated based on the cost to connect and how much flow is expected to pass through the lines.

“We have to look out for our citizens. The more they don’t pay, the more the citizens pay. Citizens should not have to pay for what the developers owe,” Fuda said.

And the county’s sanitary sewer budget is not in great shape, Fuda said. Rates are expected to rise in the next few years because the system is losing money, Maiorano said.

Cantalamessa said one possible solution would be to offset the higher tap-in fee at the old assembly plant site, and only charge $800,000.

“It seems like a reasonable accommodation would not be to ‘waive the tap-in fee,’ but to calculate it and back out the $1 million they would have had to pay had they chosen the state Route 45 site. GM pays a tap-in fee of roughly $800,000, so it isn’t a financial detriment to the other customers. And at the same time, we’re working with a business bringing much needed and jobs here,” Cantalamessa said.

Smith said the company wants an answer on how things will proceed.

And the company is seeking a favorable bulk rate, he said.

Fuda told him to work with the company and make a decision. Though Smith is the elected county engineer, he is appointed by commissioners as the head sanitary engineer, as well.

The commissioners are seeking a legal opinion to see if they are able to waive tap-in fees or not. A prior opinion in case with different circumstances — the Cafaro Company wanted fees waived for a hotel — stated the fees could not be waived, commissioners said.

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