LIMA — Mayor David Berger is asking Ohio’s senators to cosponsor legislation reforming U.S. Environmental Protection Agency sewer overflow policies that are costing communities and their utility customers hundreds of millions of dollars.
Berger was in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, talking with U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Avon, and U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Cincinnati, about a joint, bipartisan sponsorship of legislation. Berger plans to return again twice near the end of April to keep pushing the issue, in connection with the U.S. Conference of Mayors.
Lima is one of hundreds of cities across the country negotiating with the federal government on sewer overflows. The city and EPA are shaping how to address sewer overflows into the Ottawa River and how much to spend on the fixes. The work will cost the city tens of millions of dollars and greatly increase city sewer customers’ bills.
Nearly 100 Ohio communities are working on the issue.
Lima and other communities through the U.S. Conference are working on the issue on two fronts: through legislation and in direct negotiations with the EPA. Local officials believe they have solutions that address what a community can afford while providing better management of environmental impacts, Berger said.
“We developed a checklist of items we believe need to be dealt with in legislation. We have provided the senators with that text,” he said. “We are also engaging with the agency on the issue of affordability, to get policy that recognizes that there are real constraints at the local level.”
Lima based its plan on an average cost to property owners of 2 percent of median household income, which is supposed to be the EPA’s guideline. The EPA is pushing cities closer to 4 percent.
Lima already has greatly reduced polluting material that overflows into the river during large rain events. The Ottawa River’s health has significantly improved in recent years. Lima also is annually increasing sewer customers’ rates, bringing them up to a flat $50 monthly bill to help pay for other EPA-mandated work.
Cities are asking the federal government to reform its policies on the Clean Water Act and mandates for cities to control their sewer overflows. The mayors want numbers that aren’t arbitrary and that stem from what makes rivers and lakes healthier. The mayors also want a community’s ability to fund the work addressed, with a ceiling of 2 percent of median household income.