Infrastructure

Panel dips its toe into water options for northern Wood County

By DAVID DUPONT BG Independent News No one brought a dowser’s rod to the meeting on finding a solution to regional water needs Tuesday night. PowerPoint presentations were the tool of choice. The Northwestern Water and Sewer District hosted the Regional Water Informational Meeting at the Holiday Inn French Quartet in Perrysburg to inform officials and residents of some of the possibilities being considered to provide water to the district’s 6,500 water users in northern Wood County. Three options were discussed, though several others exist. Audience members included citizens concerned about tapping into the Michindoh Aquifer. The district’s search was prompted by the Toledo water crisis in summer of 2014, and then by the upcoming end in 2024  of the district’s contract with the City of Toledo to provide water. Toledo is undertaking a massive rebuild of its water treatment system. It has invested $500 million already with another $300 million in planned spending, explained Rex Huffman, the district’s legal counsel. Huffman discussed the ongoing negotiations about forming a Toledo Water Commission. The commission idea hatched in the wake of Toledo City Council’s rejection of another proposed joint entity the Toledo Area Water Authority. The authority, which would have included Toledo and eight largest entities, would have taken control of Toledo’s water system. City officials balked at the authority because of that, and fear that those who buy Toledo water would have too much control over the rates. Under the commission, Toledo retains ownership of the plant and is responsibility for financing improvements as well as retaining ultimate control over rates. However, as Huffman explained, the commission would establish the rates, and then Toledo City Council would have final say. But in order to overturn the commission’s action it would take a super majority. That arrangement, Huffman said, would result in uniform rates, long-term stability, and a regional approach to emergency management of water resources. Commission would also provide a forum to explore redundancy in the water sources, so entities would not be left high and dry in the event of another water crisis. “The dialogue between the city and the suburbs has never been better,” Huffman said. That was demonstrated by the overwhelming support for the commission by Toledo voters in November, he said. Theodore Bennett, an engineer with Jones & Henry, discussed the possibility of Maumee, Perrysburg and northern Wood County communities getting their water from Bowling Green.  Bowling Green already sells water to Waterville. To extend it to the other 6,500 customers would more than double the demand on its water treatment plant. The current demand is for 7 million gallons per day. The new entities would have a demand of 11 million gallons per day. The plant’s capacity is 11 million, so an addition or new plant would have to be built.  New pipeline, including across the Maumee, would also have…

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Waterville bridge closure to limit links to Lucas County

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   Motorists who already find the Waterville bridge over the Maumee River to be a headache will want to steer clear of the area starting next week. The bridge between Wood and Lucas counties will be closed starting Monday, June 11, for an estimated 45 days. During that time, the three-way stop on the Wood County side of the bridge will be turned into a roundabout. “Everything is weather dependent,” said Kelsie Hoagland, public information specialist with ODOT District 2. “I think they built that schedule with that in mind.” The Ohio Department of Transportation is replacing the structure with a wider bridge. The project will also include the installation of the roundabout at the Ohio 64-Ohio 65 intersection in Wood County, plus dedicated left turn lanes in both directions at the Ohio 64/Mechanic Street and River Road intersection on the Waterville side. The new bridge will have one 12-foot driving lane in each direction with 4-foot shoulders; one protected 12-foot shared use path on the north side/downstream; and one protected 7-foot sidewalk on the south side/upstream. The bridge will also have five observation platforms, lighting and see-through railings. The decision to build the new bridge south/upstream of the existing structure was based upon multiple factors including environmental and historical considerations, cost, public opinion and length of closure, according to ODOT. The project is being built for $13 million by Miller Brothers Construction Inc. The physical work on the site began in February with the clearing of trees and building a portion of the causeway from the Wood County side. The roundabout construction is scheduled to be complete by August. Then in 2019, the building of the bridge from the Lucas County side will start. The bridge is expected to be completed in the fall of 2019. A weekend closure will be needed, from 7 p.m. on a Friday to 6 a.m. on a Monday, to complete the pavement tie-in of the new bridge. Demolition of the old Waterville bridge is expected to be completed in the fall of 2020. According to ODOT, the bridge closure this summer was scheduled to accommodate school schedules. Roads will be open for the annual Roche de Boeuf Festival in Waterville, and the Applebutter Festival in Grand Rapids. And access to homes along the project will be maintained during the project. ODOT’s plan is to construct and remove half the bridge at a time in order to maintain half the river for marine traffic.


Downtown Bowling Green hopes to avoid gas pains at summer events

By DAVID DUPONT BG Independent News Columbia Gas officials gave assurances Monday night that the installation of new gas lines in downtown Bowling Green would not interfere with the summer fun. The $1.3 million project to lay 7,500 feet of plastic pipe is scheduled to begin June 4, and continue until early September. It will extend down Main Street from Clay down to Lehman and Ordway. The existing metal pipes will be replaced by plastic pipes. The project is part of an ongoing effort by Columbia Gas to upgrade its service. The gas service will go from about a quarter pound of pressure to 50 pounds of pressure. “That gives us not only a safer pressure to keep water out of the lines, it allows for homeowners and residents to use more gas appliances,” said Raquel Colon, an external affairs specialist for Columbia Gas. “You’ll have more capacity to have more gas come into your home.” This will include generators for businesses, said Jim Simon, project leader for Columbia Gas. “This project will be a lot of open cut, there’ll be a lot digging, not boring as we’ve done in the past,” Colon said. “What we’re doing is a lot of digging, and it will be a little dirty but the goal is a much safer distribution of gas.” Alex Hann, who is site and logistics chair for the Black Swamp Arts Festival as well as being active in other downtown events, asked about what provisions would be made for the five events already planned. On the downtown calendar are the new Firefly Nights on the third Fridays of June, July, and August, the Classics on Main car show on July 7, and the weekend long Black Swamp Arts Festival, Sept. 7-9 as well as the weekly farmers market. Representatives for all the events were in attendance. Simon said he was aware and sympathetic to the concerns. He lives in Bowling Green and attends the arts festival. “Our goal is to make it as safe as possible.” Hann said he was concerned about tripping hazards as well as conditions that make the area less accessible for those in wheelchairs or with limited mobility. Simon said that unlike in the past where the company has completed large sections of project before going back to do restoration, for the BG work they will do either permanent or temporary restoration as they go along. The idea is to leave things as they were before the work. The project is being coordinated with the city which has a downtown streetscape project planned to start in fall. Columbia Gas will patch some areas up, but try to minimize how much will then be ripped out for the city’s project. The gas line improvement extends further south and north than the city plans to go, so those areas will be fully…


Gas line project gets ready to dig into downtown

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News During the next four months, Columbia Gas will be replacing natural gas lines in the downtown Bowling Green area – affecting more than 110 customers and disrupting traffic along Main Street. In an effort to explain the construction project, Columbia Gas officials will hold a community meeting with Bowling Green citizens on Monday, May 21, at 6 p.m., in the Wood County District Public Library, 251 N. Main St. The work area is primarily on Main Street, from Clay Street to Ordway Avenue, but will extend down certain side streets, alleys, and into parking lots. The gas line work will begin in early June, and is expected to be completed by October. Cheri Pastula, communications manager for Columbia Gas, said the project is part of many upgrades being done to prevent problems with aging lines. The bare steel lines will be replaced with plastic pipes. The Bowling Green project was moved up to this year, Pastula said, since the city is planning major streetscape work in the downtown next year. “We decided to do it this year before the city does its roads,” so the street work will not need to be disturbed, she said. During the community meeting, Columbia Gas officials will address how the project will affect residents: Columbia Gas contractors will work street by street to install new main lines and service lines up to each customer’s home or building. Gas service will not be impacted until it is time for Columbia Gas to connect the customer to the new gas system at their meter. For most customers, gas service will be interrupted for approximately two hours. Customers will get advance notice of this service interruption. If the gas meter is currently inside, it will be moved outside. Any surface that has to be disturbed will be repaired by Columbia Gas. This includes sidewalks, driveways, lawns and landscaping. Once this work is complete, customers will have a gas system with state of the art safety features. During the construction, Columbia Gas will make efforts to not shut down any streets. However, lanes will be reduced and flaggers will be on hand, Pastula said. “There most likely will be some traffic disruption,” she said. “But we try not to close down the roads.” Columbia Gas of Ohio has invested more than $1.5 billion in communities around the state to replace aging gas lines over the last decade. This is paying off in safety, with leaks reduced by 40 percent, according to the company. Residents can contact Raquel Colon, external affairs specialist for Columbia Gas of Ohio, with questions or concerns at 419-351-8398 or rcolon@nisource.com. Visit www.columbiagasohio.com/replacement for more information on the construction process.


County approves $5 hike in license plate fee

By DAVID DUPONT BG Independent News The Wood County Commissioners unanimously Thursday (May 17) voted to increase the cost of getting a license plate by $5. This will bring the county portion of the fee to$20 or $25 depending on the community. The state fee is $34.50. County Engineer John Musteric said the Permissive License Fee increase will generate an additional $632,660. That money will all go to road and bridge projects, he said, not for personnel or operating expenses. The county, he said, is facing a shortfall of about $3.7 million meet the needs of county road and bridges. “This will only be a drop in the bucket, but every little bit helps,” Musteric said. After a study of road conditions, the engineer’s office determined 74 percent of the county roads are in marginal or worse conditions. To address all that work, would take about $6 million a year. The office now spends $2.3 million. Also, 52 of the county’s 441 bridges, which have an average age of 41 years, are in poor or worse conditions. To catch up, the county would need to replace nine bridges annually, at about $400,000 each. That’s double what it can do. This comes at a time when the cost of materials is increasing. Musteric said his office has tried to make cost savings where it could, including not replacing employees who leave and doing in-house work that had been outsourced. One county resident Wade Kemp commented on the license fee increase. He said he supported it but wondered why he had to pay the same amount for his motorcycles as for his truck or his neighbor had to pay for a recreational vehicle. That is set by the state, assistant county prosecutor Linda Holmes said. Commissioner Craig LaHote noted that if the state allowed the county to levy an additional 3.2-cent-a-gallon gas tax, it would provide the revenue needed to fully fund the road and bridge repairs. Given the fluctuating price of gas, people wouldn’t even notice it Musteric said. Kemp noted that as federal fund economy standards go up, and people use less gas that will take a bite out of revenues from the gas tax. Musteric said that’s especially true with the increasing popularity of electric cars, and hybrids. LaHote said some states charge more for a license plate for an electric vehicle. California, Musteric said, charges by weight for registering vehicle. Board President Doris Herringshaw said that the commissioners did receive a couple telephone calls on the issue, both in favor of the increase. This was the second of two public hearings on the issue. The first hearing was held last week. The fee will go into effect sometime around the first of the year after it is reviewed by the state.


$5 license tax goes unchallenged at public hearing

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   Talk of raising taxes normally raises the dander of local taxpayers. But when the Wood County Commissioners held a public hearing Thursday morning on a proposed $5 license tax, no one showed up to complain. The commissioners took that as a sign that local residents realize the poor condition of county roads and bridges. The public will have one more chance to voice opinions during the second public hearing on the tax set for May 17, at 10 a.m., in the county commissioners’ hearing room. The new tax was requested by Wood County Engineer John Musteric, who is tired of just spinning his wheels on endless road and bridge repairs. The $5 permissive vehicle license tax will be used only for road and bridge expenses, Musteric said. “Every little bit helps,” he said on Thursday. According to local county officials, state and federal government have no appetite for raising gas taxes themselves. And the revenue brought in by gas taxes isn’t growing to meet expenses, since more fuel-efficient cars mean less gas is needed to traverse the state. But the state has given local governments the option of tacking on the new tax. “They recognized the stagnant funding of local transportation systems and that counties were struggling to keep up with the need for bridge replacements and road repair,” Musteric said. The proposed $5 increase is projected to bring in an additional $632,660 annually for road and bridge repairs. Musteric pledged to the commissioners that the additional funds would be used only on capital expenses, not on personnel or operating costs. Currently the state registration fee is $34.50, and the local permissive fees are between $15 and $20, depending on the community. The federal gas tax of 18.4 cents has not been increased since 1993, and the state gas tax of 28 cents has not been increased since 2005. “Our revenues have been stagnant,” Musteric said. Meanwhile, the cost of building and maintaining roads has continued to grow. Since the last state gas tax increase, the cost of asphalt has jumped 58 percent, steel has increased 35 percent, concrete has gone up 10 percent, and road paint has jumped 38 percent. “So we have to do something,” Musteric said Thursday. To deal with stagnant or declining revenue plus rising costs, some counties have enacted county road and bridge levies. Wood County has not. Some counties have dedicated a portion of their sales tax revenue for roads and bridges. Wood County has not. According to Musteric, the county engineer’s office has tried to do more with less. The office has reduced the number of employees from 52 in 2006 to 44 in 2018. He is also trying to turn over some of the smaller roads to township maintenance, and transfer bridges inside municipalities to their care. The operating…


BG water rates staggered to make easier to swallow

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   Bowling Green’s water rates are not bringing in enough to keep the water expenses afloat. A rate study by Courtney & Associates has found that revenues need to be hiked by 32 percent by 2022. If approved, those rate increases will be spread out over five years, with a 6 percent bump each year. While the 32 percent hike may sound big, even with the proposed rate increases, Bowling Green’s water rates will be much lower than those in some other communities in the region. The average homeowner currently pays a monthly water bill of $11.46. With the five-year increase, that bill will be $16 a month. That compares to monthly bills more than $50 in Perrysburg, Napoleon and Fremont. Though the total water revenue will need to be boosted by 32 percent over five years, the levels will be different for each category. Residential will be increased 44 percent over that period; commercial and industrial will go up 29 percent; wholesale will increase 28 percent; and hydrant costs will go up 143 percent. John Courtney, who presented the water rate study, said Bowling Green has been able to keep its water rates low because city officials decided years ago to use money from income tax revenues to help fund the city water system. “Your rates are still the lowest on the list,” Courtney told the Board of Public Utilities last week. “That’s awesome,” replied Mike Frost, president of the Board of Public Utilities. But the income tax fund made up 40 percent of the water rate expenses 10 years ago. That shrunk to 33 percent five years ago, and is now about 23 percent. “Your costs are going up,” Courtney said. The city has seen some growth in wholesale water sales to communities outside Bowling Green, but very little growth in water demands in the city. “Your sales have been fairly stable over the last several years,” Courtney said. The city has not increased its water rates since 2016. Meanwhile operating expenses continue to increase. At current rates, the different categories of water customers generate the following annual revenues: Residential, $1,025,800 Commercial/industrial, $2,307,100 Wholesale, $2,178,900 Hydrant, $35,900 The proposed rate changes called for: Phase-in increases over the next five years. Increase rates to result in an increase in revenue of approximately 6 percent each year. Increase the residential customer charge to recover projected billing and collection costs. Transition outside surcharge to 50 percent by test year 2022. “In your case, there’s justification for the outside surcharge because of the income tax,” Courtney said. Following is a breakdown of Bowling Green’s rates compared to other cities in the region. The average monthly water bill for residences in Bowling Green is $11.46. After five years of incremental increases, the average monthly bill will be $16. That compares to…