PDT Staff Writer
President of Portsmouth City Council Steve Sturgill says he agrees with comments made in a Friday Daily Times story by New Boston Village Administrator Steve Hamilton.
“I have talked to Steve Hamilton. He called me just to talk a little bit about the issue,” Sturgill said. “And the one thing that I definitely agree with in that article was that I am flabbergasted that this continues to be an issue.”
Sturgill said he brought the issue up at a City Council meeting in January of 2012.
“It’s about a 16-month saga for me,” Sturgill said. “I think that there has been close to $800,000 in consultant money spent on this particular project, and it not only affects Portsmouth. It does affect New Boston.”
Sturgill said it will be on the agenda at Monday night’s Portsmouth City Council meeting.
“We’ll request another, I believe, about $70,000 to continue to try to fix this,” Sturgill said. “I think most of that money is in just consultant work. We haven’t even begun to do the project yet.”
According to the agenda, Council will be asking for $22,000 for Howerton Engineering and Surveying and $61,750 for AMEC Environment and Infrastructure to be paid from Flood Defense Fund No. 265 “for additional engineering services to complete the certification of the flood defense system.”
Meanwhile, First Ward Portsmouth City Councilman Kevin Johnson has come up firing in a response to those comments made by Hamilton that Portsmouth government leaders do not respond and do not return calls.
The story reads, in part, “Part of the sewer problem comes from blocked Portsmouth sewer lines, Hamilton told council.”
“We get our stuff done,” Hamilton said. “We got problems up here and it’s not all because New Boston. I’m sick of being a step-child to Portsmouth.”
According to the Ohio EPA, they began sending letters to the village in 2005 asking for a long-term sewer control plan that would divide the village’s current combined sewer system into two separate lines — one sewer line and one storm water line. Chief among their concerns is the village’s combined sewer overflows (CSO), which is what occurs when too much water and sewage flow through the sewer lines. When that happens, the excess flow will bypass the two pump stations and dump into the river. The EPA is also concerned about instances of overflows happening inside residential basements.
“This problem was supposed to be taken care of two-and-a-half years ago. Well, it’s not been taken care of,” Hamilton said. “This is not a New Boston problem — well, it is a New Boston problem now that it has been brought to the city’s attention many times. I’m sick of playing phone games with Portsmouth over this stuff.”
Johnson had a differing assertion.
“I made best efforts to get our two councils to meet together and discuss these issues, so we all understood where we are going, and what we needed to do,” Johnson said Friday morning. “But not one response from them. And then to read this crap this morning, lets just say - my head blew a gasket.”
Johnson produced several e-mails tracing the communication. In an e-mail dated June 28, 2012, Village Councilman Mike Payton wrote, “As per our conversation this morning, I am forwarding this to you for your thoughts:
I was glad you are interested in a combined meeting of the two councils (NB & Ports). Among possible discussion points that I would like to see on a proposed agenda are the following: *Discussion on the current floodwall certification status. *Discussion on the sewer situation in both Portsmouth and New Boston and Federal/State EPA involvement. Please feel free to add to this list as you see fit. As we discussed this morning, I am in total agreement more communication lines need to be opened between both councils as more situations involving the two communities are continuing to evolve. This is absolutely no reflection on any staff working for either entity but just the nature of political bureaucracy. I would recommend that any such meeting be held no earlier than 6 p.m. due to several councilmen in both cities having jobs where daytime meetings are impossible. I also recommend that both solicitors are present as well as mayors and selected staff. One final recommendation is that we have this meeting sooner than later. I propose by mid July. I look forward to receiving your thoughts.”
Johnson said he and then-president of Council John Haas sent a series of e-mails, with no response. Johnson said in a Jan. 13, 2013 e-mail sent to New Boston officials, he reacted to a story in the Daily Times with, “Last year, in response to an e-mail from Mike Payton on June 28 (see below) I tried my best to schedule a joint meeting of our respective city-township executives and councils; to no avail… not even after the issue appeared in the Portsmouth Daily Times (see http://portsmouth-dailytimes.com/bookmark/19163356). (that story was dated July 1, 2012, and read, in part - ‘Members of two different councils are calling for a joint meeting to go over several important issues. After a conversation, New Boston Village Councilman Mike Payton sent an e-mail to First Ward Portsmouth City Councilman Kevin Johnson.’) Not one response from any of you to numerous e-mails that I and others had sent or forwarded you concerning this potential to open lines of communication, work towards addressing mutual issues of concern and, thereby, potentially avoiding misunderstandings, lack of advance warning and flare-ups as we all saw in this morning’s paper.”
Johnson said, again, there was no response. He said Haas tried to set up a format that would set a meeting in Portsmouth followed by a meeting in New Boston. He said there was still no response
“I mentioned to the mayor (James Warren), come on, if you’re upset with us, either incorporate with Portsmouth, or set up your own services,” Johnson said. “If you won’t even talk to us, for God’s sake, and you want to go to the paper, give me a break.”
But leaving the city’s sewer system isn’t an option for the village, Hamilton said, because of a 30-year agreement the village and city signed in 1991. In that contract, New Boston agreed to maintain all of the sewer lines that pass through the village, and the city would maintain all of the sewer lift stations, and the village would receive no revenue from the city sewer rates.
“We’d love to go back to negotiations on that agreement. If they want to go back to negotiate the agreement of the sewage, we’d love to do it before the eight years (remaining) is up,” Hamilton said.
Meanwhile, Johnson said he met with Portsmouth Mayor David Malone Friday morning.
“I understood from the Mayor (Malone) that the direct cause was the fact that we had to increase our water rates, and they (New Boston officials) wanted special dispensation for their residents, and the mayor had to say no, we can’t do that,” Johnson said. “We have deficits to make up. We have infrastructure to improve, the EPA mandates. As far as cost increase, they ain’t seen nothin’ yet. If we’ve got to fund, say, a minimum of $20 million, EPA-mandated CSO clean-up, rates for sewage and water have got to go up again just to fund that.”
Johnson said he had also attended the Scioto County Health Coalition meeting Friday morning.
“Everyone’s talking. We’re getting things done. I’m so excited about the way things happen,” Johnson said. “What our problems are - we sit down and try to analyze and fix them. But if you can’t get a response from a governmental body whatsoever, how can you do it?”
Hamilton said Friday the city and the village met as far back as 2007 to talk about the problem, but so far the city hasn’t done anything to fix it. He said this isn’t a problem for village or city councils, but instead for the administrators responsible for day-to-day business of their community.
“Our council don’t do day-to-day business. I went through the right people; I went through the Portsmouth Mayor, I went through the Portsmouth Sewer Director,” Hamilton said. “I didn’t know that we had to go through council to get day-to-day stuff done, but now I had to take it to (New Boston) council because the problem didn’t get fixed.”
Sturgill indicated he agreed.
“I am a City Council member and president of City Council,” Sturgill said. “We do not operate the day-to-day operations of the city of Portsmouth. That is not our charge. But as we continue, as council people, to ask to spend these sums of money on these issues, I have a real problem with it. And I think that the community needs to know what is being done with regards to these issues.”
Hamilton said his door is always open to any members of Portsmouth City Council who would like to talk.
Frank Lewis may be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 252, or firstname.lastname@example.org. For breaking news, follow Frank on Twitter @FrankLewisPDT.