Council to act to protect water supply

Within 90 days Marietta officials hope to have an ordinance in place that will enable enforcement for violations of the city’s drinking water wellhead protection plan.

“The current plan has a lot of good information, but there’s no teeth in it,” said Councilman Mike McCauley, D-2nd Ward, who chairs council’s water, sewer and sanitation committee.

He noted there is signage at the city’s well fields, located along the Muskingum River between the Washington County Fairgrounds and Marietta Aquatic Center, warning drivers not to park within 300 feet of the seven wellheads.

“But if (water superintendent) Jeff Kephart sees a hazardous material spill or violation occurring there, he can’t address it or issue a citation” because there’s no law in place giving him that authority, McCauley said.

That’s why he’s proposing a wellhead protection ordinance that will also contain penalties that can be assessed for any violations related to the current protection plan.

McCauley’s proposal would hold violators responsible to clean up and restore the property if they cause any contamination within the well field.

“The current plan is really just administrative policies without a means of enforcement,” added city law director Paul Bertram III.

“We’re also trying to get this ordinance in place ahead of the horizontal hydraulic shale drilling that’s coming into our area,” he said, noting that, depending on the geology of the area being drilled, oil or other contaminants from the so-called “fracking” process might work their way into the well field aquifer.

“Right now we just don’t know what hydraulic fracturing will do to the shale in our area,” Bertram said.

He and McCauley agreed that the city should establish zoned areas that could extend outside the city limits where drilling would be limited if it poses a threat to the city’s drinking water supply.

McCauley said the draft ordinance is nearly completed and he hopes to have the proposal ready for introduction to city council soon.

In other business Wednesday, finance committee chairman Tom Vukovic, D-4th Ward, went over the city treasurer and auditor’s reports for February.

He noted income tax revenues at the end of last month were $244,601 ahead of the same time last year, and said the income tax collection has been at record levels for 11 of the last 14 months.

Treasurer Valerie Holley attributed the additional revenue to an uptick in business and construction projects within the city.

Another good piece of financial news for the city was a huge increase in hotel and motel tax revenues.

“The hotel and motel tax is up 41 percent, from $37,613 at this time in 2012, to $53,039 this year,” Vukovic said.

That’s also good news for the Marietta Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau that receives 50 percent of the city’s monthly take in hotel and motel taxes.