Palestine wants out from under EPA fine

EAST PALESTINE — The village is asking the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency to grant absolute forgiveness of a proposed $10,000 fine for violations.

The violations stem from several sanitary sewer overflows that have plagued a portion of the village for years during periods of heavy rain.

In March, the agency notified the village that it was in violation of state water pollution control laws because of the overflows, and also for failing to abide by a schedule handed down by the EPA in 2011 to correct the problem.

EPA Director Craig Butler said in the letter that the village faces a proposed civil penalty of $126,069 for the violations.

However, he also said that all but $10,000 could be suspended if the village meets new deadlines for correcting the problem, which extend through August of 2020.

Village Manager Pete Monteleone said during the Monday council meeting that the village is in the process of requesting absolute forgiveness from the EPA for the fine.

Council was presented with a resolution to accept the EPA director’s findings and orders relating to the violations outlined in the letter back in March.

Council voted 4-1 during the Monday meeting to table the legislation, however, believing that more discussion is needed. Councilman DJ Yokley was absent and Councilman Doug Simpson was the only one who opposed the motion.

“There is a lot more that has to be talked about regarding our course of action on this,” Councilman Alan Cohen said after suggesting they table the issue.

He also questioned if the sanitary sewer system would continue to have problems even after the construction of the million-gallon equalization basin (or storage tank) project council approved in 2017 to correct the problem, since the siphon in the system is also causing problems.

The storage tank is estimated to cost roughly $5.56 million and is being designed by MS Consultants.

Simpson agreed the siphon was problematic, but added the village needs to move forward with the storage tank to remedy the overflows.

“This should have been done years ago. We are kind of under the gun right now,” he added.

Municipal Attorney Dave Powers said the village is moving forward with the new EPA schedule, but encouraged council to come up with a plan in lieu of the fines.

The village does have the option through the agency’s Supplemental Environmental Project (SEP) to undertake a community project that provides a direct environmental benefit to Ohio citizens instead of paying a cash fine as part of a settlement agreement.

The project cannot be something that is already required by law.

East Palestine Finance Director Traci Thompson recalled the village took that route in years past, opting to clean up a portion of Little Beaver Creek instead of paying a fine.