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Martins Ferry Officials Hear Water Concerns

Members of the Concerned Ohio River Residents spoke Thursday with Martins Ferry city leaders about the Austin Master frack waste facility and worries of potential contamination. In front, from left, are CORR members Ray Cantor, Bev Reed and Robert Reed. Back, from left, Councilman Rick Rodgers, geomicrobiologist Yuri Gorby and Pease Township Trustee Michael Bianconi. (Photo by Robert A. DeFrank)

Martins Ferry leaders held a meeting Thursday with representatives of the Concerned Ohio River Residents environmentalist organization regarding the practices and regulation of the Austin Master Services frack waste processing facility in Martins Ferry.

The environmentalist group has been raising concerns that activities at Austin Master might pollute the city water and impact the water of other communities along the Ohio River, such as Bridgeport, which now purchases water from Martins Ferry. They are also concerned about pollution of Belmont County water.

Martins Ferry Mayor John Davies said he has listened to the issues the group brought up and will continue to do so. He referred to the latest Ohio Environmental Protection Agency test results from the state indicating radium readings were “well below” the amount from 20 years prior when a steel mill was active at the same site. He also has been in touch with the facility, and Austin Master officials have provided reports and recommendations from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources since 2015.

CORR member Robert Reed said hazardous waste is loaded and unloaded at the facility using open containers.

“They have open containers. We’ve seen them for five or six years now. Every one of these ODNR reports that come in, there’s violations,” he said. “We saw pictures … this June … they had open sludge on the concrete. That’s not a container. The concrete and the bins they have are not a container.”

“The bins are a container,” Davies said.

“The sludge is leaking out of it onto the floor. The trucks are going through,” Robert Reed said.

His daughter and fellow CORR member Bev Reed said they do not believe there is sufficient secondary containment.

The meeting took a contentious turn.

“Everybody but your group lies,” Davies said of his perception of the group’s implications, referring to a prior CORR meeting where he said the group asserted without proof that contamination was inevitable and already occurring. “You guys are after gas and oil, you’re not after Austin Master.”

The meeting became more cordial when talk turned to potential dangers to the water supply and means city officials could employ to protect the resource.

Yuri Gorby, a scientist from Bethany in the field of geomicrobiology, said the city could install additional monitoring wells to detect the quality of water in the underground streams.

He recommended the city design its own monitoring well field.

City Manager Andy Sutak inquired about the cost of such measures.

“It would be orders of magnitude less to install monitoring wells than it would be to contaminate the pumps and the wells themselves and have to find a new water source,” Gorby said. “It would be relatively cheap.”

Davies said he shares some concerns that contaminants might get into the water, but he is not “overly concerned.”

“A concrete floor. What’s the chances?” Davies said. “Can it happen? It probably could. By the time it travels … to our well field, how diluted is it going to be?”

He said he visits the site daily.

“They’re doing what they’re supposed to be doing according to ODNR. We’re doing what we’re supposed to be doing with EPA,” Davies said.

Other concerns were that the companies dealing with Austin Master might not be adequately cleaning their vehicles’ containers.

CORR member Ray Canter said Davies should inquire about the truck-washing operation.

“I want to see them in compliance,” Davies said.

Councilman Rick Rodgers said the meeting was a productive one.

“We were open to each other today. That is a very, very good sign, let’s keep it on that level,” he said.

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