Thursday, October 2, 2003

MSD to pay to fix sewer backups

By Cindi Andrews
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Hamilton County commissioners agreed Wednesday to use sewer fees to fix persistent flooding in basements - a move that could spell relief for hundreds of homeowners at the expense of higher sewer rates for users countywide.

The 2-1 vote directed the Metropolitan Sewer District to pay 100 percent of the cost to stop the county's oldest sewers, which carry both storm water and sewage, from backing up into low-lying basements. MSD has been paying only 50 percent for such repairs.

The problem often occurs during heavy rains in Cheviot, North College Hill, many Cincinnati neighborhoods and other older areas. But the fix can run into hundreds of thousands of dollars, more than small communities say they can afford.

"We're falling behind on our street repairs because we're utilizing street levy funds to fix those chronic basement problems," said Jerry Thamann, North College Hill's safety-service director.

The cost to MSD will be significant, too. The sewer district estimated that 1,000 homes may need to be repaired or torn down to solve the problem, at a cost of $251 million. The Sierra Club puts the number of homes at 10,000.

MSD has proposed a new solution that would cost an estimated $37 million for 1,000 homes. All connections between the flood-prone home and the sewer system would be severed except for a small pump that would move the home's waste into the sewer system.

"If we do that, everyone who's got sewage in their basement should have it cleared up in five years," Commissioner Phil Heimlich said. "That's a lot better than telling people it could take 30 years to get fixed."

But even new options would require a sewer rate increase of 4 percent for property owners, on top of a 5 percent increase already planned for 2004, MSD said. That would increase the average bill from $320 a year to $350.

That was cause for concern Wednesday for some township officials. It's not fair to expect their residents to pay more to fix other people's sewers, Anderson Township Trustee Russ Jackson told commissioners. Green Township Administrator Kevin Celarek said he's also concerned his township's need for new sewers will be ignored amid the push to fix sewage-in-basement problems.

"If everyone takes that position, we're not going to have a sewer district," Commissioner Todd Portune said.


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