By RYAN SCOTT OTTNEY
PDT Staff Writer
NEW BOSTON — For seven years the state and federal Environmental Protection Agencies (EPA) have been pushing the village of New Boston to develop a long-term sewer control plan, but nothing has been done. Now their patience is wearing thin, and representatives from the Ohio EPA personally spoke to Village Council during their regular council meeting Tuesday evening.
The Ohio EPA began sending letters to the village in 2005 asking for a long-term sewer control plan that would divide the village’s current combined sewer system into two separate lines — one sewer line and one storm water line. With no response from the village, the Ohio EPA turned the matter over to the U.S. EPA in 2007.
Chief among their concerns is the village’s combined sewer overflows (CSO), which is what occurs when too much water and sewage flow through the sewer lines. When that happens, the excess flow will bypass the two pump stations and dump into the river. According to the Ohio EPA, there should not be more than four CSOs a year. New Boston Village Administrator Steve Hamilton said he wasn’t sure how many the village has had, but said he knows it is much more than four.
“In the month of March, I believe we bypassed (every day) for two and half weeks,” Hamilton said.
The EPA is also concerned about instances of overflows happening inside people’s basements. Hamilton said sometimes this can happen when the home’s sanitary sewer line is tapped into the storm line.
During a meeting of New Boston Village Council this week, the Ohio EPA asked the village to begin thinking about its long-term control plan. The biggest challenge will be funding the project. In 1991, New Boston signed a 30-year contract with Portsmouth agreeing that New Boston would maintain all of the sewer lines that pass through the village, and the city would maintain all of the sewer lift stations. The village also agreed in 1991 to receive no revenue from the city sewer rates.
With limited funding resources available to them, the EPA discussed several options with village council Tuesday evening.
One option was that the village could try to renegotiate their agreement with the City of Portsmouth and ask for some of that money back. Hamilton pointed out that the city recently increased its water rates by 10 percent, and he suggested that the village could ask for 10 percent of all revenue earned from New Boston customers. This option, he said, would generate about $25,000 a year for the village.
Another option may be for the village to add its own additional charges onto the bill for New Boston customers. The EPA suggested that a 50-cent or one-dollar fee would not create a large pot of money, but it would show them that the village is taking steps forward. Hamilton is concerned that this option would cost more for the residents of New Boston, who are already paying a higher percentage of their median household income for water and sewage than are city residents.
Hamilton suggested the option of metering the sewage as it enters or leaves the village, and charging a fee to the City of Portsmouth for whatever sewage and stormwater they send through the village lines. He said the excess flow coming from the surrounding city is contributing to the overflows. The county is also trying to tap into those Portsmouth lines at Eden Park, which would add even more stress to the already overworked New Boston system.
The biggest concern with this option is the possibility the city might pass that cost to its customers and raise water and sewage rates even higher.
“Everyday, two or three people call me because the sewer rates are too high,” Hamilton said.
The least attractive option for Hamilton is to walk away entirely and turn all of the village sewer lines over the City of Portsmouth to maintain. Some members of council asked the EPA why they should turn their lines over to the city when the city is not doing any better with its own long-term control plan.
“I am totally, totally against it, and the EPA feels like that is the last thing that you would even think about,” Hamilton said.
Finally, the village could decide to build its own sewage treatment plant to serve the residents of New Boston themselves.
This might also be the most expensive option for the village, and Hamilton complains that so far there has been no state or federal support for local infrastructure. Last year, the village was unable to find any state or federal funding for its federally-mandated floodwall repairs, and eventually had to apply for a line of credit at U.S. Bank.
“I have called Sen. Sherrod Brown’s office. I have called Sen. Rob Portman’s office. I have called our State Rep. Terry Johnson, and I have called Rep. Jean Schmidt for help. I have gotten no help from the senators, congressmen, none of them,” Hamilton said.
He said infrastructure, such as the floodwall and sewer projects, should be a high priority for state and federal offices.
“We’ve got problems with bypasses and some sewers … but they spent all this money on broadband to get them on the Internet?” Hamilton asked. “If you’ve got sewage going into the river, what is more important?”
Ryan Scott Ottney can reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 235, or firstname.lastname@example.org.