Akron to settle EPA lawsuit for $1.4 million, given 19 years to make $300 million sewer system repairs

November 10, 2009

After two weeks of deliberation, Akron City Council Monday night approved terms of a settlement in the lawsuit filed against the city by the U.S. and Ohio Environmental Protection Agencies over problems caused by its combined sewer overflows (CSOs).

Council’s approval authorizes the city to enter into a consent decree under which the city will repair and upgrade its combined sewer and storm water collection systems, pay a $500,000 fine and pay $900,000 to remove the Ohio and Erie Canal diversion dam near Brecksville.

The fine will be paid in installments, with the first $150,000 payment due 30 days from the date the decree is entered as an order. Another $150,000 will be due six months from that date, and a final $200,000 payment will be due in another six months.

The dam removal expense is not related to the city’s sewer system problem, but is a high-priority EPA project which the agency offered the city in lieu of a fine that could have been $100,000 higher or paying the entire estimated $1 million to remove the dam. With this settlement, the city’s cost for dam removal is capped at $900,000, and other agencies will foot the bill for the rest, said Council President Marco Sommerville.

Sommerville said considering a possible $2.5 million legal bill for fighting the matter in court, the city’s best interests are served by settling.

“Nobody’s really happy with it but it’s basically the best deal we are going to get,” Sommerville (W-3) said. “Now we can look at what improvements we have to make to the system and figure out how to pay for it.”

The consent decree orders Akron to make several upgrades to its 71-year-old combined sewer system over the next 19 years, including:

  • Expand treatment capacity at the water pollution control station from 110 million gallons per day to 130 million.
  • Build separate collection systems for sanitary sewers and storm sewers.
  • Increase storm water capacity at the Mud Run Pump Station on Waterloo Road, near the Barberton border.

Public Utilities Committee Chair Kenneth L. Jones (W-5) said repair costs are currently estimated at $300 million. The city applied for and was turned down for stimulus funds to offset the repair costs. However, the city is researching how other cities in similar situations have paid for EPA-mandated repairs. Barring any other means of paying for the repairs, Council is bracing for inevitable increases to residents’ water bills.

Sommerville asked the city’s public utilities officials to investigate changes in billing procedures to lessen the sting of higher bills for Akron’s low- and fixed-income residents.

“What will be our policy as far as shut-off notices and payment arrangements?” Sommerville asked. “We want to show compassion to people who are going to be in a tough situation.”

The administration will return to Council next month with estimates of how much water bills are expected to increase.