PDT Staff Writer
Portsmouth is listed as one of 86 Ohio communities that would benefit from legislation dealing with renovations to outdated sewer systems, announced by U.S. Senators George V. Voinovich (R-OH) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH) on Wednesday.
The Clean Water Affordability Act of 2009 would help those listed communities struggling to afford costly, but necessary, renovations to sewer systems.
The Clean Water Affordability Act authorizes $1.8 billion over five years for a grant program to help financially distressed communities update their aging infrastructure. The program would provide a 75-25 cost share for municipalities to use for planning, design and construction of treatment works to control combined and sanitary sewer overflows.
Brown and Voinovich Wednesday released a statewide map of the 86 facilities in Ohio with serious sewage overflow programs.
“Combined Sewage Overflow” systems, or CSOs, such as the one utilized by the city in the Grandview Avenue area of Portsmouth, move both wastewater and storm water through the same sewage system. In the event of a storm or excessive rain, such as the city experienced in June of 2008, CSOs cannot handle both human wastewater and storm runoff at the same time.
Since the June 2008 flooding, the Ohio and U.S. Environmental Protection agencies have been in the city and held public hearings and meetings with officials, resulting in the EPA calling for certain actions to be taken to at least alleviate the problem.
The EPA estimates that about 850 billion gallons of untreated wastewater and storm water are released through CSOs each year in the United States.
Shortly after the June 2008 flood, several citizens of the Grandview Avenue Area of Portsmouth began to urge Portsmouth City Council to take action.
Larry Essman of 2417 Grandview Ave., who is involved in legal action against the city demanding accountability for the alleged damage suffered by property in that area, appeared before Council.
“This one was devastating. They (Essman pointing at Cindy Newsome of 2315 Grandview Avenue) lost their homes. We don’t know if it’s repairable. We’ve all had illnesses. I myself was recovering from a surgical procedure on June 4, and by some miracle I was able to keep (wastewater) out by hauling buckets upstairs, running down getting another bucket as it overflowed my commode. I’ve got about a fourth of my basement covered with human feces, and waste and spent toilet paper. No wonder we’re sick.”
That flooding led to a lawsuit asking the city to purchase properties on Grandview Avenue because of their responsibility for creating and maintaining a sewer system that eliminates flooding.
The city asked for a summary judgment against the suit, and that judgment was denied by Scioto County Common Pleas Court Judge Howard H. Harcha III. The city appealed the ruling and the Fourth District Court of Appeals heard the arguments on Thursday morning and will rule at a future date.
Attorney for the committee Joe Griffith said he is of the opinion the case will be sent back to the local courts because the court only looked at negligent maintenance and not negligent operations.
Federal guidelines require municipalities to renovate the outdated systems to protect human health and the environment, but upgrades often prove too costly for many small communities. According to the EPA, communities across the nation face an estimated $50 billion in need for CSO renovations. The projects in question represent more than 25 percent of all wastewater needs reported in the most recent EPA needs survey.
“Our legislation provides a realistic approach for defining a local utility’s financial capability regarding long-term control plans to address combined sewer overflows and sanitary sewer overflow controls and ensures that such control programs are truly affordable for the utility’s ratepayers,” Voinovich said.
Voinovich spokeswoman Stephanie Sonksen told the Portsmouth Daily Times, the legislation is in its very early stages.
“The bill was sent to the Environment and Public Works Committee (EPW), and the Committee is slated to take it up in early May,” Sonksen said.
“We hope to use the Clean Water Act as a vehicle for passage.
“It will be reviewed by the committee,” Sonksen said. “It has to go into the committee. And then the committee will vote on it. And if the committee passes it, then it will go the Senate floor for a vote.”
Brown said access to safe and clean drinking water isn’t just a health issue. Brown said it’s an economic development imperative.
“I’ve had more than 140 roundtable discussions across Ohio. At almost every one of them, I hear how important water and sewer infrastructure is to economic competitiveness,” Brown said. “This bill is about helping local governments make these renovations and investing in Ohio’s long-term economic development.”
The village of New Boston is also on the list provided by Voinovich and Brown.
Another aspect of the legislation is job creation. Studies indicate that for every $1 billion invested in infrastructure projects, anywhere from 35,000 to nearly 50,000 jobs are created.
Frank Lewis may be reached at (740) 353-3101 Ext. 232.