Process begins to demolish Willow Grove Park dam

LISBON — A reluctant Mayor Joe Morenz will sign off on an agreement to begin the process for demolishing the Willow Grove Park dam, while another meeting will be requested with state officials to work out the details.

Morenz brought up the topic at this week’s council meeting, saying he had the final agreement that council had authorized him to sign on their behalf that would allow the demolition to proceed. Morenz, who opposed the demolition as a councilman, said the agreement does not include any of the promises made to them by Ohio Environmental Protection Agency officials and a representative for Rutgers Organics Corp., owner of the former Nease Chemical Co.

Nease operated a chemical plant 10 miles upstream of the park and came under fire from state and federal regulators because chemical runoff contaminated the Middle Fork of the Little Beaver Creek. Rutgers was made to clean up the contamination, and as part of the final settlement it offered to demolish the dam, which is expected to improve the stream habitat by restoring the natural flow of the creek.

In 2013, council gave the company permission to demolish the dam, and the officials returned in September to say they were prepared to proceed. In addition to paying the $150,000 demolition costs, Rutgers offered to donate $10,000 to Lisbon to go toward replacing a bridge swept away during the 2004 flash flood.

Morenz said none of the things they were promised in September were included in the agreement, which is why he was reluctant to sign it.

“To me, it looks like they are trying to take the cheapest way out,” he said.

After considerable debate, village solicitor Megan Bickerton pointed out what Morenz is being asked to sign grants Rutgers legal access to the property. “They have to have access to the property before they can do anything … This doesn’t detail the totality of what are going to do,” she said.

Bickerton expects Rutgers will provide them with a second agreement detailing exactly the work that will be done.

Council voted again to authorize Morenz to sign the temporary easement (5-1, with Dawn Thomas in opposition). Meanwhile, they will ask for another meeting with OEPA and company officials to clarify the situation.

The newspaper obtained a copy of the access agreement and it clearly states Rutgers will remove the dam and abutments, and also calls for the company to restore the property to its existing condition.

In other action, council:

— Authorized police chief Mike Abraham to spend $12,672 on a new radio-relay repeater to replace the one on the Dunn tower south of town on Steubenville Pike. He said the current relay is inadequate to reach every corner of the village, and the more powerful repeater is expected to correct the problem.

“Sometimes we can’t talk to each other when we’re in opposite sides of the same house, and that worries me,” he said of his officers.

–Accepted the resignation of part-time police officer John Kerchofer and hired Kody R. Watkins of Boardman and Shelbie N. McCoy of St. Clair Township to serve as new part-time officers.

Council Vita DiIullo wondered why Abraham seemed to go through so many part-time officers.

“This is the nature of the game,” Abraham said, adding part-time officers often move on to jobs with better pay or closer to home. He said his expense in training them is minimal.

–Appointed Colt Carlisle of Churchill Road to the fire department and agreed to spend $2,000 for a new furnace at the fire department, which includes installation, with the cost to be split with Center and Elkrun townships, which contract with the fire department for coverage.

–Scheduled a finance committee meeting for 4 p.m. Nov. 22.