Tuesday, October 7, 2003

Sewer fixes could triple bills

Deal calls for $1.5B upgrade over 19 years

By Cindi Andrews
The Cincinnati Enquirer

It's expected to take 19 years and $1.5 billion to stop the pollution of rivers and basements by Hamilton County's outdated, overloaded sewer system, according to a plan to be released today.

The fixes could triple homeowners' sewer fees, which average $320 a year, by the time the work is done in 2022, Metropolitan Sewer District Director Patrick Karney said Monday.

Fees might increase 9 percent next year as the sewer district gets ready to make big changes in its operations.

"We're trying to make sure our ratepayers are not overburdened, but our environment is not ignored," Karney said.

The plan - called a consent decree - has been developed by the sewer district and the state and federal Environmental Protection Agencies in response to a lawsuit filed by the Sierra Club in early 2002. The federal suit contended the district is illegally letting millions of gallons of raw sewage spill into streets, rivers and basements each year.

"It is so unfortunate that we have gotten to this point," local Sierra Club official Andy Betts said in a statement Monday.

"For 30 years our MSD and our politicians have broken the law and now we have to pay for it."

The consent decree won't be final until public hearings are held and it's approved by Hamilton County commissioners and U.S. District Judge Arthur Spiegel.

Final details of the decree were still being worked out Monday, Karney said, but a key component will be dealing with sewage that backs up into basements.

The sewer district estimates 1,000 Hamilton County homes flood during heavy rains, while the Sierra Club puts the number at 10,000.

County commissioners recently ended the sewer district's policy of making communities pay 50 percent for repairs to stop flooding from the county's oldest sewers.

The consent decree would commit the district to end all sewage flooding in basements, according to Karney. It also proposes helping residents with flood clean-up and paying them for property damage, he said.

The consent decree also deals with sewage overflows into streets and rivers - a problem caused when rainwater gets into sewers. Spiegel rejected an interim partial consent decree hammered out in early 2002 that addressed some sewer overflows.

The new consent decree is expected to give the sewer district until February 2022 to complete all improvements, Karney said.


E-mail candrews@enquirer.com

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