By Tim Cox
A joint effort between the city of Celina and Mercer County to build a new sewer treatment plant looks more likely as officials plan to sign a letter of intent asking the Ohio EPA to study the issue.
City administration officials and county commissioners reached a consensus agreement Thursday to seek an EPA feasibility study for siting a new sewer plant northeast of the city. The joint sewer project grew out of talks between the two government entities about working together on a central water system. The sewer issue, though, has now taken center stage because the plan meets short-term and long-term goals of both sides.
Officials continue to discuss a joint water project, but those talks are bogged down due to different needs of the city and county. Group members decided to resume monthly meetings after a lengthy hiatus so the projects can move forward.
Several in the group envision a regional water and/or sewer district to serve Celina and the surrounding rural area.
A joint sewer treatment plant would provide several benefits, officials said. Properly sited, the plant would help pave the way for a future joint water plant, they said. The Great Lakes compact heavily restricts "diversions" of water from the Great Lakes watershed, and that continental divide snakes its way through the northern portions of Celina. By rule, ground water could not be drawn from the Great Lakes watershed unless it is eventually returned as treated effluent to the original watershed. Celina's current sewer plant lies well south of the divide.
By building a sewer plant north of that line, officials would remove that obstacle because the compact's rules would not be in effect. A central water plant then would be more likely because the county's proposed well field east of Celina would not be geographically limited by the continental divide. The well field is now limited in potential size because it lies near the continental divide with Grand Lake not far to the south.
A northern sewer plant also could handle some of the capacity at the Celina plant now used by rural county users east of the city. That additional capacity is an economic tool that helps lure potential industrial development, Fanning-Howey engineer Jared Ebbing said.
Celina city development consultant Kent Bryan agreed. Although the city's sewer plant could handle the addition of an ethanol plant to its system, the city cannot continue to pump sewage several miles back into the central gravity-driven portion of the pipes. Continued expansion east of the city would eventually require large mains to be replaced with bigger pipes, all in the heart of the city, Bryan said.
"Logic says there needs to be planning for a future plant to the north," Bryan said.
Ebbing called on the group to forge a "concise, fundamental plan that makes sense for the whole region."
Long before any new plant can be built, the group must decide for sure whether they will work together, and in what form that will take. They could operate under an arrangement similar to existing contract agreements that provide city water and sewer service to rural residents, but the county maintains ownership of the rural infrastructure.
One entity could turn over operations to the other government body or the city and county could set up a central water and/or sewer district with its own governing board. There also are variations on how a central district could be set up.