Ironton close to CSO plan

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Ironton residents may soon see an additional $15 charge added to their monthly water bills - but not the $15 fee everyone has been arguing about.

Not to be confused with the much-debated $15 per month municipal fee, the city council will look at a draft of the long-anticipated storm water utility fee when it meets at 6 p.m. Thursday. The proposed fee will generate more than $1.2 million a year but it will not help the city with its ongoing budget crisis.

Expected to cost residential households between $13 and $15 per month initially, the proposed fee will cost commercial and industrial companies much more depending on the amount of runoff surface they own.

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The monthly fee is to allow the city to adopt and implement the Environmental Protection Agency-mandated Combined Sewer Overflow plan and to maintain and improve the city's storm water system as required.

Developing the CSO plan by the December deadline is projected to cost more than $860,000 based on a current proposal by E.L. Robinson Engineering. Actually implementing it could cost the city $20 million over the next 20 years. The entire purpose of

the plan is to determine the volume of pollutants that go into the Ohio River and to minimize untreated discharges coming from the city's 53 miles of sewers.

"We absolutely have to have the fee," said city engineer Phil Biggs, adding that the city faces sizable fines from the EPA if a plan is not in place. "Without it, we don't have the revenue to even prepare the plan or the revenue to clean, repair and maintain the sewers and drains."

The whole fee system is based on the amount of

impermeable and runoff surfaces - parking lots, blacktop, roof area - that a property owner has. People will only be billed for that area, Biggs said.

At least initially, all residents will be billed for a typical 3,000 square feet of impervious area per residential unit - called one equivalent residential unit (ERU). Later, each property will be looked at individually and the residential rates could go up or down for each property owner.

Longtime resident Hilda Davidson said she supported a municipal fee under certain conditions but that knowing about this new burden would possibly cause her to rethink that idea.

"If the municipal fee was $15 and then this other fee was $15, I just couldn't afford it," she said. "… It would be very hard for me to pay it."

Relating the fact that she recently had to make cuts to her cable and newspaper service, Davidson said the city may have to do the same so that it doesn't overburden the residents with unpayable fees.

Residents aren't the only ones taking a hit. Businesses have been examined individually to determine how many ERUs they should be billed for.

For example, a company such as Liebert may pay $1,176 per month with 88 ERUs based on its large parking and roof areas.

Councilman Jesse Roberts said council has known this was on the horizon for awhile, adding that it is not a "wish-list" but a "have-to" mandate from the government.

"This is one of the reasons I fought against the other fee so hard," he said. "How can the people afford an extra $30 a month? How can someone on fixed income afford that?"

The councilman added that this will differ from other fees in that it goes strictly for clearly defined purposes.

In addition to paying to draft the plan, funds generated from this fee will be used to create a storm water department that will be staffed by at least four people, purchase new equipment, map the city's sewer system and more.

Ironton has three types of sewer lines in the city - storm sewer lines that discharge directly to the river, sanitary sewer lines and combination sanitary waste/storm water drains that go to the waste water treatment plant. Keeping them separate is the biggest problem.

The city has seven discharge points into the Ohio River and its tributaries. By EPA standards, each is allowed six discharges per year. When the city gets as little as one-tenth an inch of rain, the discharge points release, often allowing untreated sanitary sewer into the Ohio River. At least five of the seven discharge points discharge more than 100 times each year.

Though it may not help with their pocketbooks, Biggs said residents should eventually see an improvement to city's look as trash, leaves and grass are kept out of the streets.

"This is going to create an improvement of the city's appearance," Biggs said. "It is going to make the city look better."