Officials discuss $41-million project to renovate Meander dam

Local News

(WKBN) – Meander Reservoir spans both Mahoning and Trumbull counties, its water running throughout the townships of Austintown, Jackson and Weathersfield. 

It has been described as the premier source of drinking water in the Mahoning Valley, but the focus Wednesday was on the Meander dam. It’s old and needs some serious work that is going to cost a lot of money.

About 25 people interested in preserving Meader Reservoir gathered Wednesday afternoon at the dam to hear about how $41 million is going to be spent.

“The $41-million project that we are looking for is to renovate the dam, to bring it up to 21st-century standards,” said Mike McNinch, chief engineer of the Mahoning Valley Sanitary District.

McNinch said the Ohio Department of Natural Resources wants the dam to be able to withhold rainfall of 19 inches in 24 hours — or four times the amount that has ever been recorded.

“They do not believe the dam would be able to sustain that at this point, so we want to make sure the dam is future-proofed and ready for the next 100 years,” McNinch said.

Renovating the 94-year-old dam would include elevating the concrete core that is now covered with rocks and dirt, above the flood level. In addition, the slope of the dam would be changed so it’s not as steep, the spillway would be renovated, and a new auxiliary spillway would be built to replace the two now in place. The road on top of the dam would be replaced, as would the chemical feed lines leading to it.

“It’s a big chunk of change,” said Tony Burgoyne of the consulting company GPD Group.

Burgoyne spoke with the group inside, explaining the plan is to apply for a $30 million FEMA grant to pay for the bulk of the project. 

“The dam project, we believe, is tailor-made for FEMA’s program,” he said.

What Burgoyne and officials with the Sanitary District were looking for was support to get the grant.

“It’s a necessary project. It’s a regional project. It benefits the community. It’s a win, win situation for everybody,” said Youngstown Water Commissioner Harry Johnson.

“I know we have approximately 9,000 residential users, commercial users, and also sell water outside of the city, so in order to continue to do this project is going to have to move forward,” said Niles Mayor Steve Mientkiewicz.

The additional $11 million to pay for the project would come from the Sanitary District’s capital improvements fund, but FEMA grant or not, the project to renovate the dam is scheduled to start by the summer of 2023. 

Without the grant, money will have to be borrowed and water rates will have to be raised. 

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