Officials Hoping for Breakthrough on Sewage Problem

Weirton Utilities Director Butch Mastrantoni and his staff are hoping for a breakthrough – literally – as they work to stop raw sewage from flowing into the Ohio River.

It was revealed in March that the untreated flow, which represents 7-8 percent of the city’s sewage, has been released into the river for more than 50 years through an outfall on the former Weirton Steel Corp. property, now owned by Luxembourg-based ArcelorMittal.

The primary obstacle, Mastrantoni told Weirton Sanitary Board members Wednesday, is an 8-inch line obstructed with tightly compacted slag, preventing crews from re-channeling sewage flow to the Fifth Street lift station near the north end of the city.

Once the line is clear, Mastrantoni believes the flow can be redirected away from the mill outfall and back to the lift station.

When the blockage was first discovered, it was some 300 feet long.

A stretch of about 70 feet of that pipe remains obstructed, and Mastrantoni said that last section is proving to be the toughest to clear.

“This stuff is like concrete in the line, so it’s really difficult,” he said. “… We’re going to stay on it every day until we break through that line.”

A historic lack of oversight of construction behind mill gates has been blamed for the problem. Dan Guida, legal counsel for the sanitary board, previously said Weirton Steel for decades “called the shots” in its relationship with the city, noting the mill was not required to obtain building permits prior to construction.

Because Weirton Steel built structures in places where they normally would not have been permitted – for example, over manholes and existing sewer lines – portions of that infrastructure became clogged, preventing sewage flow from reaching its intended destination.

Also, a long-forgotten “mixing chamber” built on mill property in 1957, discovered through a search of archived blueprints, caused surface runoff and sanitary flow to combine before diverting it into the river.

While clearing the obstructed line will provide an immediate solution, Mastrantoni said the long-term fix will require the city to separate surface runoff that does not need to be treated from the sewage flow.

Officials also will have to determine whether continuing to channel the sewage to the Fifth Street lift station is the most efficient solution or if more needs to be done.

“Those are the elements that are yet to be determined,” he said.

To that end, the sanitary board has engaged Thrasher Engineering, a Charleston firm, to study flow throughout the city and prepare an action plan. Mastrantoni expects a preliminary report from Thrasher by June or July, he said.