Akron city administrators are buying a new drug testing machine to avoid potential delays in prosecuting crimes, replacing equipment to catch speeders and installing a $1.43 million roadside gutter system to stop contaminants from falling into the city's main supply of drinking water.
The gutter project will stretch the length of state Route 14 over Lake Rockwell in Portage County. Chris Ludle, deputy director of Public Service, told City Council on Monday that the project, when completed next year, would capture and divert everything from road salt to the potentially hazardous contents of a ruptured or overturned tanker truck, even during heavy rainfall.
The system would feed the contaminated material into a retention basin with a coil of separation pipes on the southwestern shore of the causeway. Oil would rise to the surface, heavy solids would drop to the bottom and the untreated but filtered water would be discharged back into the reservoir.
From there, the water would take the usual route through the nearby water treatment plant before pipes carry it southwest to homes and businesses in Akron.
The Hazardous Spill Containment System has been on the city’s capital budget since 2017. Ludle said engineers will review construction bids later this year if council gives final approval for the project next week.
In other business before City Council on Monday, members of the Public Safety Committee advanced two ordinances to replace aging police equipment without publicly bidding the purchases.
If given final passage next week, the city would pay Agilent Technologies $83,991 for another mass spectrometer, which analyzes chemical substances and is used by investigators to test for drugs.
The city’s current drug testing machine is 12 years old, “on its last leg” and beyond Agilent Technologies' ability to maintain, according to Akron's forensic chemist.
In legislation asking for council's support, the police department said its current machine “breaks down frequently, causing delays in drug testing and prosecution.” In an interview, though, police spokesman Lt. Rick Edwards said there’s only been the possibility of delays, especially if the city has to outsource testing.
“Nothing has been delayed at this point,” Edwards said. "But if we would have to use the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation, then yes, cases could be delayed."
In a separate ordinance, the safety committee authorized $15,365 from a 0.25 percent income tax increase passed by voters in 2017 to install speed radar systems in seven new police cruisers, which are also replacements funded by the tax increase.
Sgt. Jim Henosz said the newer models with rear antennas would operate with the “tried and true” technology of older models being retired from traffic division cruisers. “This gives us almost 180 degrees [of enforcement]," he told council. "We can see in front of us. We can see behind us. And with the flip of a button, we can see both sides.”
Safety Committee Chair Donnie Kammer said speeding is "one of our No. 1 concerns." He joined Marilyn Keith and Rich Swirsky in raising familiar concerns about simply replacing equipment instead of increasing capacity and hiring more traffic officers to catch speeders on side streets.
Last year, Police Chief Ken Ball added 12 hours of speed enforcement per week and equipped 10 patrol cars with radar guns that give patrol officers the added ability to always check surrounding speeds, even when their cruisers are moving.
But Ball's request this year for more officers, in and outside the traffic division, did not make the tight operating budget approved by council.
On Monday, Kammer asked Henosz and Deputy Mayor for Public Safety Charlie Brown to provide "good, solid information" on speed enforcement efforts "to see if we're putting a dent in this problem."
A Beacon Journal/Ohio.com review of the 2019 police traffic enforcement log shows that, through June 6, the division used 294 locations across the city to stop 850 cars, issuing 688 speeding tickets and letting the rest off with a warning.
Reach Doug Livingston at email@example.com or 330-996-3792.