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Published: Friday, 1/27/2006

State fires 2 supervisors over problems at rest areas

LIMA, Ohio - Since drinking water and sewage problems led to the closure of seven rest areas in northwest Ohio, two supervisors were fired and another suspended and demoted this week by the Ohio Department of Transportation.

Todd A. Newman, a treatment plant operator employed by ODOT for nearly 15 years, was fired along with Theodore Kaser, a building maintenance superintendent who worked for ODOT for 25 years.

The agency said both men neglected their duties, and that their actions posed a harm to the traveling public.

Marvin Kromer, a 29-year ODOT employee, was suspended for 10 days and demoted from acting business and resources administrator to fiscal officer.

Lindsay Mendicino, an ODOT spokesman, said all three men worked out of ODOT's District 1 office in Lima.

A fourth employee, George Groves, who worked as an assistant to Mr. Newman, was implicated in the agency's internal investigation of the rest area problems, but he retired Dec. 31, Ms. Mendicino said.

Norman Redick, deputy director of the Lima district, received a written reprimand Jan. 10 for failing to deal with the problems in his district, she said.

An ODOT report of a pre-disciplinary meeting with the fired employees state that Mr. Kaser failed to supervise Mr. Newman and Mr. Groves and failed to address warnings regarding the condition of the drinking water and waste-water facilities in District 1.

Mr. Kaser contended he did not have a background in water or waste management and ultimately was unable to get ODOT to approve $100,000 for needed repairs.

Mr. Newman, another report said, never communicated the problems to his district management, ODOT's central office, or the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency. He countered that he didn't have enough time, help, and equipment to do his job.

In November, ODOT agreed to pay $110,400 in penalties for drinking-water violations at rest areas along I-75, just south of Findlay, and another in Portage County in northeast Ohio.

Waster samples from the rest areas tested positive for total coliform bacteria, which is an indicator that organisms that cause gastrointestinal illnesses may be present.

In October, ODOT closed the nine rest areas in District 1 as a precautionary measure. Ms. Mendicino said yesterday seven of the rest areas remain closed.

"Work on all of the drinking water systems is complete, but we're working on the sewage systems," she said. "We can't open the parks until the sewage treatment plants are finished."

The Findlay rest areas on I-75 are open only for parking, although portable toilets are available. ODOT expects to re-open the rest areas the third week of February, she said.

By the end of February, rest areas on U.S. 23 between Upper Sandusky and Carey should re-open, while work at the rest areas on U.S. 30 west of Van Wert should be completed by mid-February, she said.

A rest area in Paulding County that has been closed due to unrelated problems with the waste pumps also is closed at this time.

Despite the problems, state officials said they received no reports of motorists becoming ill after visiting the rest areas.



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