Martins Ferry City Council members didn't need to hear the veiled threat issued by an Ohio Environmental Protection Agency official last week. They live here. They are at least as concerned about the quality of water in local creeks and the Ohio River as state officials in Columbus.
OEPA Compliance Enforcement Supervisor Jennifer Witte told council members last week the city's sewer system needs to be improved. She explained Martins Ferry and other local communities need to reduce the amount of sewage overflows into the river.
"You are not going to resolve these problems overnight," Witte emphasized, adding OEPA officials understand it will take time to identify and make the needed corrections.
But the work must be done, Witte stressed. If the communities involved do not correct the problem to the OEPA's satisfaction, the agency will refer the issue to the state Attorney General's office for enforcement.
"Our agency doesn't want to do that. We want to do this on a voluntary level," Witte said. In other words, volunteer or else.
This is nothing new for local government officials in East Ohio and the Northern Panhandle. For decades they have been ordered, from time to time, to make improvements in water and sewer systems.
Cleaner water in area streams is important, of course. Many local residents remember a time when it was not uncommon to see raw sewage flowing into the river and area creeks. The water is much cleaner now.
Martins Ferry officials understand the need to avoid polluting waterways. As Councilman Robert Hunker put it during the meeting with Witte, "We need to look to the future."
Precisely. So there is no doubt that, in Witte's terminology, city officials will "volunteer" to make the improvements.
Witte said her agency may be able to help the city find sources to cover part of the cost of making the necessary improvements. Good. Undoubtedly residents will have to pay higher sewerage rates to cover much of the cost, but state and federal help should be provided, too.
Witte said her agency wants to work with Martins Ferry and the other communities to make the mandated changes. Again, good. We urge OEPA officials to allow the city plenty of time to find money for the work, then comply with the agency's mandate.