Belmont County Gets $60.5 Million Investment for Water
ST. CLAIRSVILLE — The federal government announced Friday a $60.5 million investment to modernize and improve Belmont County’s water system.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the investment represents the single-largest monetary obligation in Ohio Rural Development History.
County, state and federal officials made the announcement in the county courthouse. Anne Hazlett, assistant to Secretary for Rural Development, said the USDA is providing a $45.5 million direct loan combined with a nearly $15 million grant through the Water and Waste Disposal Loan and Grant Program.
“We know that infrastructure is a foundation for rural prosperity,” she said. “Not just for quality of life, for public health and safety, but also for economic opportunity.”
After the announcement, Belmont County commissioner Josh Meyer said the upgrades will affect rural areas that do not have their own water treatment facilities. The commissioners raised water and sewer rates last June in preparation for the possibility of the loan, so no further increases are expected.
Hazlett commented on the potential the new water system could mean for the county.
“We know that this will be a platform for future growth in this region,” she said. “Our core mission at Rural Development and at USDA is really to come alongside local community leaders and build rural prosperity. Here in Belmont County, we have seen an opportunity. A community that has needs and strong local leadership that have a vision for addressing the needs of the reason … Water infrastructure will create that foundation for future growth.”
U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson, R-Ohio, said this comes as a culmination of planning and work from officials at all levels. He also said this announcement comes on the heels of a recent announcement of $16 million in funding for rail infrastructure.
“This is a huge, huge announcement for Belmont County,” he said.
Johnson said the system will encompass 500 miles of water lines that serve 9,700 rural residents directly.
“And another 23,000 residents when you look at the villages and townships around,” he said.
Johnson said the system is a sign of even more growth to come.
“When you look at the potential for the ethane cracker plant, PTT Global Chemical, which continues every day to move in the right direction, this is a big shot in the arm for that,” he said. “We’re heading in the right direction.”
Representatives from Sen. Sherrod Brown, R-Ohio, and Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, also were present. The county commissioners commended them and Johnson for their work, along with the active support of USDA officials.
“It’s unbelievable how exciting it is to get to this stage,” Commissioner J.P. Dutton said.
He commented on last year’s visit to the White House, where the Belmont commissioners joined commissioners from across the state to present their local issues to U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue.
Dutton said the learned last fall that the county would receive $9 million in loans and $3 million in grants for sewerage improvements.
“We’re talking about $72 million, 25 percent of that will be grant funds, which was not expected but much-appreciated,” said Dutton, who was referring to the water and sewerage projects. “This is the kind of thing that honestly moves our community forward.
“I think they felt comfortable with where we were at as a community,” he said of the USDA.
Commissioner Mark Thomas said planning for extensive infrastructure improvements began 2016 with the creation of a county-wide water/wastewater study. The study showed the need to seek improvements to those systems. He commended prior commissioners Ginny Favede and Matt Coffland for helping to originate the plan, and commissioners Dutton and Meyer for enthusiastically taking up the cause.
“That was the start of getting us here today, two years later,” he said. “This is probably the greatest announcement that we’ve had from an infrastructure standpoint in Belmont County. We hope to have more great announcements in the future, and those great announcements will take place because of today.”
Thomas also said the project represents an investment in the future, in particular the area’s youth when it comes to finding jobs and staying in the area.
“This will allow us to upgrade and maintain a water system that was in dire need of revamping to say the least,” said Meyer. “It will allow us to upgrade the current system. It will allow for future growth and development. This is going to put us in the forefront of how things should be done.”
He also thanked Kelly Porter, director of the Belmont County Sanitary Sewer District, and Mark Esposito, former director, for their work maintaining the system.
The projects include replacing the water metering reading system, the 1965 water treatment plant, the Ohio 9 water booster station and the Homeside 12-inch water transmission main, as well as a water distribution system supervisory control and data acquisition upgrade.
After the announcement, Porter said residents will see multiple simultaneous projects during the next 36 to 48 months. Those include line and pump station replacements, as well as a new water plant along the Ohio River that replaces the one that dates to about 1965. Porter said the new tank likely will be erected in the Bellaire area, because the county’s wells are there.
Porter said paperwork and selecting consultants and engineers will take the next 12 to 18 months before designing and bidding the system.
“We could hopefully be bidding the project within two years,” he said.
Funds will allow the construction of a new, 6-million-gallon-per-day water treatment plant and a new administrative building with a laboratory.
“We have a lot of work to do,” he said. “This is just the first part.”