LIMA — Due to Lima’s influence, cities, villages and other local municipalities will potentially have a new tool to deal with unfunded mandates sent down by the Environmental Protection Agency.
This past month, Congress passed the bipartisan Water Infrastructure Act which gives municipalities additional flexibility in dealing with Clean Water Act obligations by codifying the EPA’s “Integrated Planning” approach first used by the City of Lima to juggle the EPA’s requests to clean up the Ottawa River.
Lima’s history with Integrated Planning began back in 1995 when state and federal environmental authorities mandated the city deal with the Ottawa River’s toxic ecosystem. By 1998, the city had put together a $60 million plan and installed screening devices on the combined sewer overflows, thereby collecting tons of debris that would have entered the river. The Ohio EPA approved the efforts.
The plan, however, was disrupted when the federal EPA intervened in 2004. It took another decade to mitigate a consent decree in the courts.
Lima Mayor David Berger said Integrated Planning played an integral role in resolving the federal intervention by 2014, allowing the city to better plan the necessary updates to the city’s water systems by spacing out $150 million worth of improvements over a 27-year period instead of undertaking the original EPA mandate that requested $400 million worth of upgrades.
“The issue has always been to make sure what we’re doing is not only effective but affordable to our customers,” Berger said.
The city has already undertaken some of the updates required by the EPA, expanding a combined overflow pipe and updating the wastewater treatment plan to be able to deal with an extra 200 million gallons during major rainfall. Most recently, the city has also begun the construction of a major overflow tank under Simmons Field — a $40 million project — to fulfill an EPA mandate.
Due to the city’s success with Integrated Planning, Berger has since been a proponent of the technique and has worked to ensure the tool becomes a standard practice by testifying before Congressional bodies on three separate occasions and speaking to the National Press Club.
Congress’s recent passage of the bill codifying the technique is partially a result of those efforts.
“Lima has actually played a significant role in the national discussion,” Berger said.
Rep. Bob Latta and Sens. Rob Portman and Sherrod Brown all supported the bill and played a part in pushing it forward. Rep. Jim Jordan also voted “yes.”
The bill currently sits on President Donald Trump’s desk waiting for his signature.
“Red tape shouldn’t force communities to spread their resources thin just to meet an arbitrary timeline. Let’s be smarter and work with communities so they can prioritize their wastewater investments while reducing pollution,” Brown said in a statement commenting on the bill’s passage.
“There are billions of dollars’ worth of water, wastewater, and stormwater infrastructure needs in Ohio, and it’s critical to provide communities with the ability to meet their obligations in a more cost-effective manner,” Latta said in a similar statement. “Integrated Planning allows communities to allocate funds in a targeted manner, focusing them on the most effective water quality improvements.”
“It’s going to benefit the customers of Lima’s sewer system,” Lima Utilities Director Mike Caprella said. “That’s the bottom line.”
Reach Josh Ellerbrock at 567-242-0398.