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Sewer project to cost city $11.78M

Phases 4, 5 will be in middle, downtown Ironton

On Thursday, the Ironton City Council found out the city is looking at having to pay $11.78 million for Phase 4 and 5 to complete the separation of the city’s combined sewer system as mandated by the Environmental Protection Agency.

The information came from the outside counsel, James Kazlee, an environmental attorney from Cincinnati that the city hired to meet with agencies involved in the sewer separation, including the U.S. EPA, and the U.S. Department of Justice

He said that he has talked for the past 10 months with the various agencies involved in the process to get the city in a good position relative to the CSO consent decree and see if the scope of the order could be modified.

The EPA prohibited Ironton’s combined storm water and sewer systems in 2009, and the city has been in the process of a separation project ever since. The requirements made by the EPA are unfunded, meaning the federal and state governments are not required to pay for the improvements. The city has until 2025 to complete the project. Phase 4 is the sewers in the middle of town and Phase 5 is the downtown area.

Kazlee said that the city’s position was that Phases 1, 2 and 3 were unsuccessful since there were still back ups and basements were flooded. He said he was sent numerous letters to an attorney with DOJ and had approximately two meetings month on the matter.

Those letters were reviewed by the DOJ, the U.S. EPA, The Ohio Attorney General’s Office and the Ohio EPA.

“They looked at our submissions and they won’t say it is an absolute success so far, but they are pleased with the efforts of the city and some of the improvements we are seeing with the system,” Kazlee said. “So, instead of modifying Phases 4 and 5 on the front end, we are going to work to revisit what we define as success of the actual consent decree.”

He added that every agency person he has spoken to has been impressed by the city and the desire to do the project correctly.

“If we are going to do this, I am going to figure out how to get the city as insulated as we possibly can and to get you the best language I can in some type of memo of understanding or some modification of the success return on the consent decree,” Kazlee said.

He said the goal will be to proceed with Phases 4 and 5 according to the schedule that is dictated by the consent decree or by the funding that is available for the project. He said that he would work with EPA and DOJ to redefine the successful outcome of the project so the city isn’t hit with fines.

Kazlee said that Phase 4 has an approximate cost of $2.78 million that that the planning for the project is about 80 percent complete.

Phase 5 involves a number of closures and its estimated cost is $9 million.

Kazlee said there are interest-free loans available with a 40-year payback period. He said to qualify for those the city would have to have the project design plans completed by the end of the year.

“The kicker here is that the interest-free program is going to expire at the end of this year,” he said. “It could be revived but I doubt that it will. That goes back to the lack of government surplus.”

He said that after 2020, there would be low-interest loans available with a 30-year payback period. The trouble with the low-interest loan is that the city will have a decade less to pay it back and it will raise the total cost by around $4 million.

“If you amortize that loan, instead of it being $9 million over 40 years, it ends up being $13 or so million over 30 years,” Kazlee said.

He said to get the zero-interest loan, the design of the project would need to start soon and preferably have the council vote on it at the next meeting.

The council will have a Finance Committee meeting on Monday at 5 p.m. and a Public Utilities Committee will be immediately after. The council meets on the third floor of the City Center.