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Cities with sewer woes prod Voinovich for aid

COLUMBUS - Toledo and other Ohio cities under pressure from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to complete expensive overhauls of their antiquated sewage treatment systems met with U.S. Sen. George Voinovich (R., Ohio) yesterday in hopes of getting some financial help.

“In some communities, they're talking about increasing sewage bills from $40 a month to $100 a month,” said Mr. Voinovich after the meeting. “This defies common sense, particularly when you combine it with what people are experiencing with gasoline and energy costs going up.

“If you're going to mandate us to do these things on the federal level, who's going to pay for them?” he asked. “We think the federal government has an obligation to increase the amount of loan money available, and we need a new grant program.”

Also joining Mr. Voinovich in the call for more federal money was Ohio EPA Director Christopher Jones, who has dealt with sewage backing up into his basement in suburban Columbus when the local wastewater facility is deluged by rain.

“The goal of clean water is not the issue here,” he said. “The question is how clean is clean and who pays for it.”

The cities like Toledo, Lima, and Mansfield are in similar predicaments. Their sewage treatment facilities, often constructed before World War II, send millions of gallons of untreated sewage and wastewater in streams, rivers, and lakes during heavy rainfall.

Toledo is working toward a settlement of a 1991 lawsuit with U.S. EPA that calls for $400 million in improvements to the city sewer system.

That would mean a gradual doubling of sewer rates over 15 years from $55 to $110 per quarter.

Last year the federal government pumped $78.5 million into a state revolving loan fund. The state matched it with $15 million.

Another federal low-interest loan program has been authorized but has not been funded, noted Mr. Voinovich.

The cities, however, argue that loans still must be paid off, largely by ratepayers.

“Loans are fine, but grants are really what are essential to us,” said Toledo Department of Public Utilities Director Donald Moline.

The last outright federal grant program aimed specifically at sewer and wastewater infrastructure was eliminated during the Reagan Administration.

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