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Questions are raised about Meander Dam

MINERAL RIDGE, Ohio — “Considerable” dam slippage, concrete separation and cracks at the Meander Dam led the board president of the Mahoning Valley Sanitary District to seek help from oversight agencies and a state lawmaker in 2014 and 2016. The damage at the facility “accelerated” in the past few years, according to letters penned in 2014 and 2016 by Matt Blair, president of the board governing the Mahoning Valley Sanitary District, which owns the dam.

Attached to letters Blair sent are photos showing slippage and seepage. Seepage is water moving through the dam, while slippage is instability in dam slopes.

 

According to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ Ohio Dam Safety Program website, seepage is the cause of dam failures 20 percent of the time a dam fails and slope instability is the cause of failures 30 percent of the time. Overflow accounts for other failures.  While the letters Blair penned to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources and then-state Rep. Sean O’Brien explicitly state it is uncertain what is causing the damage, and that is doesn’t pose a threat to the public, Blair expresses concern that increased seismic activity in the area or ground shifting could coincide with increased problems at the dam. He included news articles about local earthquakes connected to nearby wastewater injections wells. “At first I was under the impression that the problems could be the result of ordinary wear and tear due to the fact that the facility and dam were built in the 1930s, but given the fact that we have also experienced similar problems with recent construction projects, it would lead me to conclude that there may be some other reason giving rise to the structural damage experienced with our builds and dam,” Blair states.  He asks ODNR if any studies on ground shifting in the area have been conducted, and states the facility needs the data in order to plan future construction around it.  Blair asked for help getting an earthquake stability survey for the dam, asked for information about local fault lines and requested cash to help with repairs and studies.

The dam is being studied by Gannett Fleming, the company the board hired to examine it. Cost estimates to repair the dam went up from around $4 million to $28 million over the last few years, according to Blair’s letters.

 

While the dam has cosmetic and structural flaws, the preliminary study did not reveal anything alarming, but was not complete, said now-retired chief plant engineer Tom Holloway at a Niles City Council roundtable discussion in early January.  Frackfree Mahoning Valley, a local group concerned about the safety of the dam in relation to seismic activity connected to waste water injection wells, handed out fliers last week in areas that could be affected if the dam were to fail, including the 4th Ward in Niles.  After receiving numerous calls about the fliers, Niles Mayor Tom Scarnecchia went to an MVSD board meeting Friday to ask the directors if he should be worried too.  Scarnecchia said while the fliers created a bit of a “hysteria,” it brought his attention to the need to have an evacuation plan in place. The city does not have one yet, but Scarnecchia said

he would contact the Trumbull County Emergency Management Agency and Weathersfield fire Chief Randall Pugh, who organized an evacuation plan for his township. “God forbid if something does happen and we aren’t prepared that would be a major thing. We need to be ready and know what to do. Some people are scared and I don’t blame them,” Scarnecchia said.  Blair said that plans to repair the dam are underway.

Thank you Ron