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City outlines North Ironton storm sewer replacement plan

IRONTON — Homeowners on Ironton’s north side received encouraging news Tuesday as officials unveiled the timetable and requirements needed for the reconstruction of its heavily-dated combined sewer overflow system.

The preliminary schedule, announced by Mayor Rich Blankenship and engineer consultant Doug Cade of E.L. Robinson, spelled out in detail the tasks, action items and authorized deadlines the city must meet in rebuilding and replacing more than 23,500 feet of storm sewers in North Ironton.

More than 30 residents attended the open forum called by city council’s Public Utilities Committee. The gathering continued a series of recent public meetings on an issue that has plagued the city for close to 40 years.

Blankenship told those in attendance that the sewer separation project has been the most constant issue he has had since assuming office

“This has been a daily activity dealing with this issue at least once a day, every day,” Blankenship said.

Following years of neglect and ball-dropping, the Environmental Protection Agency levied a consent order against Ironton in January, effectively placing the city on the strictest of deadlines when it comes to replacing its combined sewer overflow system.

Under a 17-year agreement with both federal and state EPA authorities, Ironton must have its entire city-wide combined sewer overflow system financed and replaced. The agreement is peppered with an extensive list of both short and long-term deadlines Ironton is required to hit.

Should the city fail to meet any of the timetables ordered by the EPA, they could face fines ranging from $200 to $600 per day based on the amount of days overdue.

Some of the major directives the EPA drafted for the North Ironton sewer separation project – the first of the five phase project – is a Dec. 31, 2011 deadline for design approval, a July 31, 2012 construction start date and a Dec. 31, 2013 construction completion date.

Phase one would separate storm and sanitary sewers between Orchard Street and Hanging Rock while eliminating both the Nash and First Streets combined sewer overflow and the Orchard Street combined sewer overflow.

But while the forum outlined the tasks and dates the city and the EPA agreed upon, one item that still hangs in limbo is how Ironton is going to finance the estimated $4.5 million phase one reconstruction project.

With only $1.2 million in grants, matching funds, fees and loans secured for the first phase, the city had hoped to snag a portion of the $278 million in stimulus monies allocated to the state of Ohio for water and sewer projects to close the estimated $3.21 million shortfall.

Instead, Ironton was shut out of even partial funding when the Ohio EPA divvied up the funds on what they alleged was sliding scoring system for sewer systems based on need and condition.

The announcement piggybacked a $100,000 fine the city paid the state agency several days earlier for non-compliance on the same overflow system.

Mayor Rich Blankenship appealed the decision on May 7 saying in a letter to the EPA that the city was scored incorrectly. No date has been set as to if or when the city would hear back from the EPA on Blankenship’s request.

Only the Union-Rome Wastewater Treatment Plant in Chesapeake and a contaminated well in Coal Grove were selected in Lawrence County by the Ohio EPA for stimulus monies.

The bypass left the city with few options. Cade outlined to those in attendance the different government grants and loans the city has and could apply for to close the funding gap.

He also indicated the city could apply for private financing through a bank or private investments to secure the funding. The city needs another $345,300 to begin the final design of the project.

“We still got to be looking for money,” Cade said.

More than 750 communities nationwide have combined sewer systems with 108 of those in the state of Ohio. Twenty nine of these are under EPA consent orders.

The EPA states that combined sewer overflow discharges during heavy storms can cause serious water pollution problems in these communities and nearby waterways like the Ohio River.

In the mid-1990’s the EPA issued an order requiring municipalities to make improvements to reduce or eliminate combined sewer overflow pollution problems.

Six years later, Congress amended the Clean Water Act that mandated municipalities comply with the EPA policy.