Water Concerns Raised at Belmont County Commission Meeting | News, Sports, Jobs

Photo by Robert A. DeFrank
During a Belmont County Board of Commissioners meeting Wednesday, Bev Reed of Bridgeport, a member of Concerned Ohio River Residents, shows pictures from a study of activities at the Austin Master waste management plant in Martins Ferry.

Guests brought environmental concerns — chiefly about the Austin Master frack waste recycling plant in Martins Ferry — to the Belmont County Board of Commissioners on Wednesday.

Ray Canter of Martins Ferry, a member of Concerned Ohio River Residents, and others voiced fears that the waste processing facility might contaminate county water sources near the Ohio River. Commissioner Josh Meyer asked if a study has been done regarding any danger to the county aquifers.

“There should be studies. You can’t just assume,” he said.

“It’s time to take action now,” Holly Eckert of Wheeling said. “Stop waiting for a study.”

Bev Reed, another member of CORR, showed pictures taken at Austin Master during an Ohio Department of Natural Resources inspection in November 2020, as well as reports she said describe “sloppy” handling of waste.

“There’s waste on the floor, it’s spilling out of containment bins. It’s not contained. There was a leaking roof leading to water being on the floors,” Reed said.

Commissioner Jerry Echemann said the environmentalists should reach out to the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency and other state agencies and lawmakers.

“Most of this information has been brought to us before. We appreciate these people coming in,” Echemann said. “We don’t have the authority as a county commission to do some of the things that I think they’re asking us to do. We’re not an environmental board.”

The audience members asked the commissioners to speak to these agencies, state lawmakers and city leaders as well. They also asked to meet with county Sanitary Sewer District Director Kelly Porter.

Afterward, Dutton and Meyer said ODNR has been performing quarterly inspections on the site for three years. Meyer added that the reports included pictures and information from as late as February 2021.

“The whole story needs to be told and not just a partial piece of that story,” Meyer said.

Chris Martin, spokesman for Austin Master, said the company complies with state regulations and recommendations.

“We work very closely with ODNR, and all of our processes have been reviewed by ODNR and are continually improved based on their recommended actions,” Martin said. “We do not generate any waste at our facility. … We’re a waste remediation facility.”

He said waste from the oil and gas industry is delivered to the facility in a wet form. It is separated and distributed from the plant.

“The improvements we have made are based on the ODNR reports, but they have not been specific to the process, they have been more to the storage of the waste that arrives,” he said. “The reports show a snapshot in time based on the ODNR representatives who visit the facility, and it’s our responsibility to make improvements upon that.”

A spokeswoman from ODNR was contacted and said she would look into the inspections of the Austin Master facility. She did not provide any additional information by press time.

In a separate matter, the Rev. Michael Ziebarth, pastor of the Greek Orthodox Christian Church of the Life-Giving Fountain in Martins Ferry, thanked the commissioners for responding to earlier inquiries about whether the county is testing its water for Per- and Polyfluorakyl substances, the chemicals that were found in Bridgeport’s water system. Bridgeport is now purchasing water from Martins Ferry.

Ziebarth was told the county is testing for these chemicals. He added that he believes every community along the Ohio River should have its water tested.

“We know these chemicals are toxic,” Ziebarth said. “We know the EPA closed down Bridgeport. Why not test our water on a regular basis for this problem?”

In other matters, Jerry Moore of Bridgeport, a member of the Belmont County NAACP, reported that since reviving the chapter one year ago, membership has grown to more than 100.

“We’re doing a lot of good things in the county,” he said, asking for a meeting with county human resources officials and other entities that could make them aware of job openings and other opportunities. The commissioners were also invited to the NAACP’s first Freedom Fund Dinner on Oct. 16 at Belmont Hills Country Club, St. Clairsville.

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