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State awards $500K for much-needed repairs at Meander Reservoir

A state agency has reported the Meander Reservoir dam would not withstand the "absolute worst case scenario" of extreme wet weather, local officials said. The new state grant is part of a total $250 million to shore up water infrastructure statewide.
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The "headhouse" at the Meander Reservoir near Austintown.

MINERAL RIDGE — Mahoning Valley Sanitary District has been awarded a $500,000 state grant for much-needed dam repairs and other improvements at Meander Reservoir, state and local officials announced Tuesday.

The award is part of a total of $250 million in grants for water to be put toward infrastructure projects across the state, according to a Tuesday news release from Gov. Mike DeWine’s office. The first round of grants totals $93 million for 54 projects in 60 Ohio counties, according to DeWine’s office. More project announcements are expected in the coming weeks.

The 11-billion-gallon Meander Reservoir’s dam was built in 1926 and is showing its age, Mike McNinch, Mahoning Valley Sanitary District chief engineer, told Mahoning Matters Tuesday. The reservoir serves about 220,000 residents, he said.

“The Ohio Department of Natural Resources has notified us that the dam would not withstand what they term a ‘probable maximum flood,’” he said.

That means the “absolute worst-case scenario” of extreme wet weather, where a potential 19 inches of rain could fall in a 24-hour period. For reference, the May 2019 deluge that put many Mahoning Valley communities underwater saw about five inches of rain in 24 hours, depending on location, McNinch said.

According to DeWine’s office, the grant money will go toward: Rehabilitating the reservoir’s 3,500-foot earthen dam, used to store water for the reservoir’s treatment plant; constructing a new auxiliary spillway and installing anchors into the dam foundation; flattening downstream embankments; upgrading dam-related instruments; electric service; lighting; and replacing the dam’s east and west access roads.

The total cost of fixing up the dam is estimated to be $41 million, McNinch said Tuesday. The district is now working toward a grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for the repairs. The grant would require a 25 percent local match, or about $10 million, for which the district has been budgeting over the last several years, he said.

The state’s water infrastructure grant will function as “seed money” for that match, McNinch said. The district may also consider seeking a low-interest utility loan from the state.

“This grant is a huge benefit to the people of the Mahoning Valley,” McNinch said. “It illustrates how we are recognized by the State of Ohio in Columbus and how … our local representatives are working for us.”

"These grants are about strengthening our future, our people, and our communities," DeWine is quoted in the release. "We want our kids and grandkids to stay in Ohio, and clean water is essential to the health and future of our state.  Protecting and ensuring that every community in Ohio has access to safe and clean water has been our mission from the start, and with these grants, we are continuing our mission to provide access to economic development tools that will help communities grow and thrive well into the future."

McNinch said he believes state Sen. Sandra O’Brien of Ashtabula, R-32nd, was “instrumental” in advocating at the statehouse for the grant. 

McNinch said the district has also been getting help on the federal side from the Valley’s congressional delegation: U.S. Sens. Rob Portman of Cincinnati, R-Ohio, and Sherrod Brown of Cleveland, D-Ohio; and U.S. Reps. Bill Johnson of Marietta, R-6th, David Joyce of Bainbridge, R-14th, and Tim Ryan of Howland, D-13th.

Justin Dennis

About the Author: Justin Dennis

Justin Dennis has been on the beat since 2011, covering crime, courts and public education. Dennis grew up in Poland and Salem and studied journalism and communications at Cleveland State University and University of Pittsburgh.
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