YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – Mill Creek MetroParks Executive Director Aaron Young announced on Friday afternoon that Lake Newport, Lake Glacier and Lake Cohasset are closed because of high bacteria levels in the water, specifically E. Coli.
Canoes, kayaks, paddle boats and fishing are all banned until further notice.
As for critics who blame park officials for not being pro-active to protect the lakes, Young had this to say.
“I would argue that the only manner in which we could be proactive would have been prohibiting the outflow to Mill Creek over 50 years ago. Anything after that is too late.”
Mill Creek Park has seen floating dead fish all week and on Friday, five of seven water samples tested by the Mahoning County Board of Health were too high for E. Coli. The results were just as bad as independent tests done by WKBN earlier this week.
“I think we are confident in the fact that we acted on fact when that fact was available,” Young said.
He said he and other park officials are frustrated by the lack of timeliness from the Ohio EPA and Ohio Department of Natural Resources, but park officials said they waited to act on the information they had.
City test results released Friday also showed too much E.Coli in the middle of Lake Newport. There are no plans for the Mahoning County Board of Health to re-test the water and Young said EPA test results are at least two weeks away.
He believes it was an easy decision to close access to the lakes and keep people off the water.
“The results speak for themselves. It was recommended to us that access be closed to those lakes,” Young said.
WKBN has been asking for information on the condition of the lake every day this week:
- Monday, we asked Mill Creek for comment and we were told the lake was safe for recreational use.
- Tuesday, we asked Ohio EPA for information. They told us to talk to Mill Creek Park.
- Wednesday, we asked Mill Creek officials for comment, and they insisted the water was still safe, but wouldn’t go on camera.
- Then yesterday, we showed them our own lab test, showing dangerously high levels of bacteria in Lake Newport, but they still wouldn’t talk on camera.
But that all changed Friday after our reporting and several of you calling and emailing our newsroom to express frustration at the lack of official comment.
Young said that seven test results from Lake Newport, done by by the Mahoning County District Board of Health, came back Friday. Five of the seven showed E. coli levels between 771 and 1200–likely measured in parts per million. The safe E. Coli limit is 576, Young said.
As of just after 5 p.m., the park closed Lakes Newport, Cohasset and Glacier and canceled all activities scheduled for the lakes. If you have registered for an upcoming water program, you can contact the Ford Nature Center to find out about its status.
Young said he made the decision to close all the lakes after seeing the E. Coli results for Lake Newport. Mill Creek Park officials pulled fishers off the lake Friday afternoon after the announcement.
“In the interest of protecting MetroParks patrons’ health, safety, and well-being, we believe this is the appropriate course of action,” Young said.
Environmentalists are concerned about sewer overflows like the one that killed all these fish last week.
“What will Mill Creek Park look like if things like this keep happening?” Susie Beiersdorfer with Frack Free Mahoning Valley said.
Earlier in the week, WKBN paid Cardinal Environmental to analyze a water sample from Lake Newport, which showed a count of 3800 for fecal coliform bacteria. E. coli is a type of fecal coliform bacteria.
Youngstown State University Biological Sciences Professor Chet Cooper said that that level of fecal coliform bacteria is almost 10 times what it should be for safe swimming water.
“This is a real problem. We are not having any investment in our infrastructure, and the Ohio EPA, which is supposed to be overseeing public health and safety and clean water, is not doing it,” Beiersdorfer said.
The city of Youngstown has a long-term plan to eliminate sewer overflows like the one that killed thousands of fish in Lake Newport. But that won’t start for 5 years, and won’t finish for nearly 20.
“To say that the plan that they are working on now is too long is an understatement. It was too long 50 years ago,” Young said.
Young says the park has collected and disposed of all of the dead fish from the lake and Mill Creek Park. There has been no official word yet on how many fish died.
There is a meeting of Mill Creek Park Commissioners Monday night. You can count on WKBN to be there and let you know the next steps in this pollution crisis.