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Funding program may reduce stormwater fee

The City of Ironton has had its back up against a wall lately with the stormwater utility fee drawing closer everyday.

However, Mayor John Elam says there may now be some light at the end of the tunnel that could save residents money down the road.

The Water Resources and Development Act of 1999, Section 594, was passed by Congress to help alleviate some of the environmental infrastructure problems throughout the state of Ohio.

The city of Ironton will soon be seeking to have its environmental problem alleviated, namely, the combined sewer overflow plan that is expected to cost residents and businesses.

The Section 594 program is not a grant, strictly speaking, but a partial reimbursement for 75 percent of an environmental infrastructure project. Twenty-five percent of the funds must come from the non-federal sponsor, in this case, the city of Ironton.

Assistance is provided through the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), but they do not select which groups will receive the funding. That selection is made by the U.S. Congress.

That 25 percent can come from several different sources, according to Lisa Morgan, 594 Program Manager for the Huntington district of the USACE.

"That could be in the form of credits towards real estate purchasing and other qualified creditable items, or with matching funds that they may have through a loan or other sources," Morgan said.

Judging by conversations she has had with city engineer Phil Biggs, Morgan said the combined sewer overflow plan fits the definition of the program.

Money for 2006 has already been awarded, and Ironton mayor John Elam is hoping to have the city's application for funding reviewed for the 2007 fiscal year in February. Preliminary work has already begun, and Elam said work should be in full swing on the application by the last quarter of this year.

To Elam's understanding, monies that are expended in 2005-2006 might be reimbursed, should Ironton be admitted into the program.

Section 594 can also be a multiple year-award, which could continue to supply Ironton with funding throughout the CSO plan implementation.

If all goes according to plan, this program could alleviate some of the stormwater utility fee, which charges $15 to homeowners every month and businesses $15 per 3,000 square feet of runoff land (roofs, cement, etc.) every month.

"I would hope that we would be able to drastically reduce any CSO fee," Elam said.

When Elam has discussed the program in meetings of the Ironton City Council, he has constantly reinforced an attitude of cautious optimism.

"I think that it is a light at the end of the tunnel," Elam said. "I've been encouraged though conversations we've had in a local arena, and hopefully we'll be able to put together a competitive grant that is selected as a finalist."

Though Elam is hopeful, he stresses that need for the money will not necessarily mean it will be awarded to the city.

"Certainly I think that the city of Ironton will be able to show need," Elam said. "And we remain hopeful that we'll be successful in being awarded. But it is a grant, not a guarantee. It's a competitive grant, and we will do our best to make sure we remain competitive in the grant application process."

Elam frequently reminds that Ironton would be in competition with the entire state of Ohio when attempting to reserve its own slice of the $60 million, Section 594 pie.

Although she has no say in awarding the monies, Morgan said she was impressed by the amount of work Ironton had put into getting the funding.

"It's kind of unusual for one to be as prepared as Ironton is," Morgan said. "I think it's a benefit to the city that they're in a prepared state, and that preparedness should help them, should they be named."