MILLSBORO – A water authority in the Mon Valley is taking steps to perform a special audit of its business office a week after three key employees there were fired over state compliance issues.
The Tri-County Joint Municipal Authority board chairman Thursday said the board will seek quotes on the audit’s cost on the heels of the office staff being fired March 7 after wastewater discharge reports were not filed for 47 consecutive months to the state Department of Environmental Protection.
“It was a very hard decision for this board to do what we did,” authority board Chairman Ted Giovanelli said at a special meeting in the Millsboro-based public water supplier’s offices.
Giovanelli said the authority’s general manager Jeff Kovach, who was among those let go March 7, was responsible for filing the DEP reports, and that Kovach and the other unnamed office workers who lost their jobs were accused of being uncooperative during the investigation. Kovach could not be reached Thursday night.
The DEP has verbally informed the authority of the regulatory violations for failing to report discharges from the plant, and that it is facing “significant” fines because of the oversight, said John Poister, the department’s spokesman in Pittsburgh. He said the water quality provided to the authority’s customers was not affected by the violations.
Giovanelli said the authority’s nearly 3,500 customers in Washington and Fayette counties will absorb the cost of the DEP fines.
Board member Patsy Ricciuti said the authority “must cooperate fully with the DEP to get things in line” and it hopefully will manage to get the fines lowered by meeting the DEP’s requirements.
Nearly a dozen local residents packed the board’s small meeting room Thursday to question its members about the problem. A state constable was posted inside the 26 Monongahela Ave. office entrance, where he guided people down a hallway to the meeting room.
Centerville Councilwoman Mary S. Zebley asked the board why it didn’t know about the problem until it was too late.
“Do they not submit reports to the board?” Zebley said.
Giovanelli responded by saying the board never received the discharge monitoring reports from the business office and its members didn’t find out about the DEP investigation until the DEP mailed a letter about it in January to the former board chairman whose term expired in December.
“I’m here to remedy the situation,” Giovanelli said.
He said he had the locks changed to the business office, and went as far as to quit using a cleaning service at the building.
“I don’t want things disturbed in that office,” said Giovanelli, who added he would institute policies requiring employees to punch time clocks and track gasoline usage.
“We are going to put procedures in place,” he said.