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FBI asks agencies to guard water

By Ian Hill

Wednesday, October 10, 2001

Safety forces have stepped up efforts to protect the water supply since Sept. 11.
YOUNGSTOWN -- The FBI has asked police departments and sheriff's offices from around the country to increase security around the nation's water supply, including the supply for the Mahoning Valley.
A fax sent Sunday from the FBI to local law enforcement agencies outlines the steps that should be taken to increase security. The steps include performing additional patrols around reservoirs, reviewing emergency response plans, and developing a clear chain of command that can be followed in case of a disaster.
Retaliation threat: The fax was sent at the request of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency officials concerned about the threat of terrorist attacks. The officials are worried that terrorists may target the water supply in retaliation for recent U.S. military strikes in Afghanistan.
Afghanistan's Taliban government is harboring suspected terrorist Osama bin Laden, who is thought to be responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks on New York City and near Washington, D.C.
Jackson Township Police Chief Orrin Hill said his officers and security from the Mahoning Valley Sanitary District have stepped up efforts to protect Meander Reservoir. The district sells water from the reservoir to about 300,000 Mahoning and Trumbull county customers.
A section of the reservoir is in Jackson Township.
Hill said that as a result of the Sept. 11 attacks, his officers are paying closer attention to the reservoir during their regular patrols.
"Any suspicious vehicle or person is really checked," he said. "We don't take any chances."
Dave Tabak, chief engineer for the Mahoning Valley Sanitary District, also said that security has been increased around the reservoir. He didn't provide details.
Meander Reservoir: Mahoning County Sheriff's Sgt. Mike Budd said that since Sept. 11, sheriff's deputies have been conducting hourly patrols around Meander and the dam on Berlin Reservoir. Deputies are looking for suspicious or vehicles parked near the reservoirs, he said.
"Any suspicious people ... are immediately challenged," Budd said.
In addition, Budd said the sheriff's office works with local airports to identify suspicious aircraft that may fly over the reservoirs. Unidentified planes spotted can be identified and forced to land by the state highway patrol's plane, he said.
Meander and Berlin reservoirs aren't the only local water supplies receiving additional attention. Al Sauline, vice president of government affairs and the Struthers division manager for Consumers Ohio Water Co., said officials from his company have been working with law enforcement to protect their supply. He also would not provide details.
Consumers Ohio's Struthers division sells water to 16,500 customers in Mahoning and Trumbull counties. The company's Pennsylvania branch operates a new $36 million water plant in Sharon that provides water to 80,000 customers in Mercer, Trumbull and Lawrence counties.
Sharon Police Capt. Michael Menster said the plant has been secured with alarms and is getting increased police patrols.
Extra caution: Sauline added that while security for the water supply is a constant concern, he feels private suppliers have been particularly cautious in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks.
"If they were on their toes, they're on their toenails now," he said.
In Trumbull County, Bazetta Township Police Chief Robert Jacola said his department is doing what it can in response to the FBI's fax. He would not provide details.
The township includes sections of Mosquito Reservoir.
Budd said that any local residents who notice suspicious activity near a reservoir should call 911.