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The Daily



07-15-03: St. Marys bows to EPA order to spend millions

The Daily Standard
    ST. MARYS - City council members on Monday reluctantly agreed to a state environmental order that legally binds the city to making millions of dollars in improvements to its sewer system during the next few years.
    The news came as no surprise; city officials have been negotiating with the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) over the issue for about two years. The EPA is forcing the changes to eliminate discharges of raw sewage into the St. Marys River and Miami-Erie Canal.
    "It could be a lot worse," said Safety-Service Director Mike Weadock, noting the city made some headway in two years of studie  and negotiations with the EPA. "There isn't any advantage to us dragging this out any longer. We now agree to do these things under penalty of law."
    The sweeping state order means the city will have to begin planning for a new sewer plant and will have to begin working toward several other improvements. The city's aging collection system will need to be improved to reduce the inflow of storm water, a management plan for handling overflows must be drafted, a preventive maintenance program must be set up and a number of new management practices must be instituted to meet state standards.
    Some of the items must be in place within just a few months.
    "A lot of these things we're already doing now, but they have to be documented a certain way," Weadock said.
    Weadock said he could not estimate the total cost of implementing the state's orders, but said a new sewer plant alone would cost $8 million or more. It will be up to council to conduct rate studies and decide exactly how the mandate will be funded, he said.
    In the state's findings, the overflows of untreated sewage are the critical concern.
    "During wet weather infiltration, inflow in the sanitary collection system causes overflows of untreated sewage, industrial waste and other wastes from the sewer system through five sanitary overflows to the St. Marys River and the Miami-Erie Canal," the EPA report states.
    The EPA reported an overflow pipe near West Spring and Augustus streets overflowed 45 times during an eight-year period. The city's equalization basin located at the sewer plant overflowed 189 times during that same period. The overflows went directly into the St. Marys River.
    The city has 10 years to have the plan fully implemented and all overflows stopped, even though the new sewer permit issued by the EPA runs only though 2006.
    The city anticipated that a new sewer plant would be necessary to comply with the EPA's orders, Weadock said. But the city did not move forward with design of a facility because they feared EPA treatment guidelines could change by the time they were ready to build.
    "We weren't going to design a plant without a guarantee that we would meet state standards," Weadock said.
    The city's existing sewer plant on Hickory Street was built many years ago and was last renovated in 1969. Some portions of the collection system are more than 100 years old.
    Council members on Monday approved the state order by emergency ordinance, and the document will be finalized when the state EPA director signs it.


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