ASHTABULA — The light-gray interior of the steel cylinder warped and echoed the near whispers of James Parker and Joseph Flahiff as they stood in a shaft of a daylight squeezed through a port hole far above their hard hats.
They were inside one of the city’s best-kept secrets, a structure whose interior rarely receives a human visitor. Surrounded by trees and a high fence, only neighbors and astute drivers know of the water tank, which has been off-line for the past month while interior restoration work was performed by Tank Industries Consultants of Indianapolis.
Parker, inspector with the company, and Flahiff, production manager for the tank’s owner, Aqua Ohio Water Co., opened the tank to a media tour Thursday afternoon. It was a rare chance to crawl inside a time capsule of sorts; the interior was last painted in the 1980s, although there have been periodic inspections that required human intrusion.
“We have 12 to 15 guys — two crews — working on it to get it done in a short time,” said Anthony C. Mancari, area manager of Aqua Ohio, Inc., Lake Shore Division. “The contractor has done a nice job.”
Last year, two intrepid inspectors entered the tank from an access port and, using an inflatable raft, inspected the top section of the interior. The inspection was necessary to obtain a cost estimate for the interior painting job ordered by Aqua Ohio as part of its wide-reaching plan to upgrade the Ashtabula water system.
With the tank work nearly complete, Flahiff and Parker proudly showed off the fresh paint job as if they were unveiling a commissioned work of art.
In reality, the tank is more a work of engineering and technology than art. When the paint crews entered the drained tank, they found rust on most of the surfaces and some structural issues. Repairs were made, the corrosion sandblasted away and an inert coating certified safe for potable water applied. Flahiff said coatings have improved greatly in the past 30 years, and the modern paint will do a better job of protecting the water supply.