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Published: Friday, 4/24/2009

Ohio water, sewage upgrades net $280M

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF

COLUMBUS - Ohio sewer and water projects in the pipeline for funds may suddenly be flush with cash, thanks to almost $280 million in federal stimulus cash designed to set shovels in motion to create jobs.

An $805,500 project to prove natural methods can reduce storm-water runoff in North Toledo's Maywood Avenue neighborhood, construction of an

$8.8 million wastewater-treatment equalization basin in Napoleon, and $5.5 million to clear up long-standing drinking water contamination in the Metamora-Lyons area of northeast Fulton County were among 324 projects recommended by Ohio for funding yesterday.

"[The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act] allows us to do something we haven't done in a long time. It is money we can basically give away," said Chris Korleski, director of the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency.

The agency previously had seen its financing efforts limited to low-interest loans to help com-

munities tackle drinking, sewer, and other clean water projects.

Mr. Korleski said the state opted early on to spread $220 million in water-pollution control funds and $58.5 million in drinking water project dollars as widely as possible across the state, piggybacking the federal cash on the state's existing revolving loan funds.

The vast majority of the projects would be combinations of outright grants from the stimulus money and loans carrying interest rates ranging from zero to 3.7 percent.

The EPA director noted that the sheer volume of more than 1,600 applications submitted is an indication that the need to update Ohio's antiquated water and sewer infrastructure exceeds available funding.

"I wish I had $82 gazillion to distribute," Mr. Korleski said. "I do not."

Tim Murphy, commissioner of environmental services for the city of Toledo, said the Maywood Avenue project was an idea looking for the right "niche" when the federal stimulus bill came along. The bill sets aside 20 percent of the state's share of funding for "green" projects.

"A lot of city leaders have been skeptical of it, wanting to build wider plates and more sewers," Mr. Murphy said.

"The key with this is we will do a lot of pre- and postmonitoring with it to prove that green infrastructure works."

The goal, he said, is to reduce water runoff headed into the sewer system by 60 percent.

Unlike most of the other projects, the $805,500 Maywood Avenue project would be funded entirely by stimulus money. The project would employ the use of natural soils, homeowner rain gardens with deep-rooted plants, and rain barrels to drain or catch runoff.

The street, near Forest Cemetery, has 66 lots containing 46 homes.

Also among the recommended projects is the $428,391 installation of sanitary sewers in the Dearden/Birdsall area in a small neighborhood northeast of Alexis Road and Detroit Avenue. The stimulus money will cover $321,293 of the project with the rest made up by a loan.

Among the projects receiving the highest priority by Ohio EPA was a new $5.5 million, 16-mile water line connecting the Fulton County villages of Metamora and Lyons, the Evergreen Local School District complex, and residents of four townships along the way to the county's main water line linking Toledo and the North Star Bluescope Steel mill.

The drinking water system serving Metamora has been found to be contaminated with trihalomethanes, which can pose a health danger in concentrations higher than currently present in the systems. The county is under Ohio EPA orders to correct the situation.

The school complex is included because its aging water system has been plagued by frequent breaks.

"Had the stimulus money [not] been brought to the table, we would not have been able to afford the project at all," said Vond Hall, county administrator. "The cost is about $5.5 million. Without at least half coming from a grant or principal forgiveness, the cost for residents would have been just too much. They couldn't afford the water bill."

The tab will be divided between $3.3 million in stimulus money and a $2.2 million loan.

The biggest project in the region at $8.8 million is the construction of a 2.5 million-gallon equalization basin to temporarily hold sewer water headed for Napoleon's wastewater treatment plant during heavy rainfalls. The project is already under construction, fully funded by a loan. The stimulus funds would allow the state to convert half of the loan to a grant, saving the city $4.4 million in principal.

Contact Jim Provance at:

jprovance@theblade.com

or 614-221-0496.



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