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Published: Tuesday, 7/18/2006

Judge resolves dispute blocking new waterline

BY JIM SIELICKI
BLADE STAFF WRITER

PUT-IN-BAY, Ohio - An Ottawa County judge yesterday removed the last potential dam holding back construction of a waterline on South Bass Island, where hundreds of people were sickened two years ago by drinking contaminated groundwater.

The waterline extension, part of a $5.2 million upgrade, was being held up over a dispute involving a mistake in the apparent winning bid.

Common Pleas Judge Paul Moon yesterday ruled that the error contained in the $1.6 million bid submitted by Speer Brothers Inc. of Sandusky should not prevent the county from accepting it. Underground Utilities of Monroeville, Ohio, submitted a $1.8 million bid.

Underground contended that the Speer bid incorrectly listed the Ohio Department of Natural Resources as financing the bid bond instead of the county or Put-in-Bay Port Authority. The bid bond is intended to ensure that the contractor is paid.

Chip Collier, the attorney who handled the case on behalf of the county, called the decision a victory.

"We're very pleased with the results today," Mr. Collier said.

The project faced a July 28 deadline to receive a critical $1.2 million grant from the Federal Aviation Administration.

Missing the deadline would set the project back while other sources of funding were found, a factor in the judge's expedited decision, he said.

"The judge also took judicial notice of the public health issues," Mr. Collier said.

The extension of municipal water service to the island's west side is intended to permanently solve health and safety concerns for businesses, residents, and tourists following the groundwater contamination in the summer of 2004.

From July 23 to Sept. 12, 2004, 1,450 cases of gastrointestinal illness were reported, leading to a sharp drop in tourism.

Kelly Fry, the Ottawa County sanitary engineer who is overseeing the project, said he hoped the contract can be signed within 30 days and work begin around Labor Day.

"We want to start as soon as possible," he said.

Other plans call for additional extensions and construction of a 100,000-gallon water storage tank in the spring.

Several property owners have already tied into the water lines on their own, Mr. Kelly said.

The water main will include 8-inch and 12-inch sections that can accommodate feeder lines and extend water service from the village of Put-in-Bay to all owners of property west of town.

The village spent $400,000 last year to expand the capacity of its water treatment plant from 290,000 to 438,000 gallons a day.

The waterline extensions and the water-treatment upgrades are designed to boost daily capacity to 743,000 gallons, enough to serve the entire island.

The other costs will be covered through assessments on property owners along the expansion's route, including about 10 businesses that were ordered to stop using well water two years ago during the outbreak.

Nancy Osborn, Ottawa County health commissioner, said the 2004 incident was the country's third largest outbreak of a water-borne illness in 11 years.

The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency continues to monitor water quality in large businesses on the island, while the county agency assists home-

owners and small businesses such as bed-and-breakfast establishments.

Until the waterline is extended, small operations and homes are asked to use an ultraviolet light or chlorinating system to disinfect their water.

In a final report issued in June, the Ohio Department of Health said the aquifer used for well water will remain contaminated forever.

Water quality degradation has most likely occurred over a long period of time, the report said, noting that above-normal precipitation may have flushed more contaminants into the aquifer.

"The best permanent solution to protect public health is island-wide public water and sewer systems," the report said.

Contact: Jim Sielicki at:

jsielicki@theblade.com

or 419-724-6078.



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