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St. C. Residents Protest Water Privatization

St. Clairsville Councilwoman Beth Oprisch speaks to Milton Sumner and other protesters Monday. The demonstrators oppose the proposed sale of St. Clairsville’s water and wastewater systems to a private entity.

Residents gathered in protest outside the city building earlier this week as City Council debated whether to sell the community’s water and wastewater systems.

Protesters arrived alone and in pairs, with close to a dozen gathering with signs prior to the 7:30 p.m. council meeting Monday evening.

The city has an aging system in need of upgrades and is facing costly mandates from the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency. Officials are considering a proposed contract with Aqua Ohio, a private state-regulated entity.

“I’m opposed to the sale of the water. I think the city could do a much better job. I think there’s other alternatives available besides just selling it to some company,” Milton Sumner, one of the first residents to arrive, said.

He voiced fears that the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio will allow Aqua Ohio to make exorbent rate increases in the long term.

Sumner also voiced concerns that Aqua Ohio might not be permitted to spread the costs over its larger customer base in order to keep rates down.

He said he is unable to drink the city water and uses bottled water.

He also spoke about the lack of community involvement.

“I’ve got a whole bunch of neighbors who’s opposed to it, but they don’t want to come out here,” he said. “They won’t even come to the meetings.”

Darlene Rose and Kathy Osovich had taken up positions on Main Street and attempted to wave cars and passersby toward the city building.

“I just think we should own our own water,” Rose said, adding she trusts local control more than a for-profit company.

“I”m wondering why we’re going to have the vote the day before the election,” Osovich said, adding that she had submitted questions to her council members to pose during the meeting. “We need to slow down. We need to do the studies. … I want to know what the rush is.”

Councilwoman Beth Oprisch spoke to several protesters on her way to the meeting.

“I have heard constituents loud and clear that they want more information before we vote to sell the water,” Oprisch said.

She had asked for a delay in the process and a study to determine the city’s options for maintaining local control.

Osovich said several drivers had honked their horns or shown support as they passed.

“But yet they don’t want to get involved,” she said.

“It’s sad,” Kathy Wood said. “I wish more people were here. I know a lot of people are probably getting off work and getting cleaned up. I know we’ve had much, much better attendance lately at the council meetings.”

Many questions were answered during the council meeting, when Kimberly W. Bojko, the attorney who negotiated the proposed contract between Aqua Ohio and the city on St. Clairsville’s behalf, fielded questions about the contract from council members. Residents had been asked to submit questions to their council members to pose to Bojko.

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