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Published: Wednesday, 7/2/2008

Fremont to spend millions fixing water, sewer system

BY CHAUNCEY ALCORN
BLADE STAFF WRITER

FREMONT - The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency yesterday approved design plans for construction in Fremont of an estimated $20 million reservoir, which the agency is requiring the city build to filter toxins from its Sandusky River drinking water supply.

On top of that, Mayor Terry Overmyer said, the Ohio EPA is making the city install unnecessary separate wastewater and stormwater systems, which will drive Fremont $70 million to $90 million in debt and put a burden on businesses that will deter new businesses.

"If you have extremely high sewer and water rates, then we might not be in a position to bring jobs to our community or keep jobs in our community," Mr. Overmyer said.

"There are companies out there that are concerned."

The 146-acre reservoir will be built between South River Road and County Road 41 in Ballville Township and will contain 730 million gallons of water.

Ohio EPA spokesman Dina Pierce said the agency wants Fremont to begin construction by Nov. 31 and requires the project be completed by 2011.

But Fremont Safety Service Director Kenneth Myers said the city can't put the project up for construction bids until it secures funding.

City officials recently secured a $5 million grant from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources to cover some of the costs in exchange for allowing fishing and other recreation activities, but Mr. Myers isn't sure where the rest of the money will come from.

"Five million dollars is a long way from the $20 million this project requires," he said.

The Ohio EPA is requiring the reservoir because of the city's history of exceeding safe levels of nitrates in the Sandusky River.

Ms. Pierce said toxic nitrates come from feces and prevent human blood from absorbing oxygen. The nitrates are a problem in Fremont because of the agricultural communities that surround the city.

Rain and irrigation runoff from farms contain animal manure and fertilizer, which flows into the Sandusky River that runs through Fremont and supplies the city's drinking water.

"That is specifically a health concern for infants 6 months or so and younger," Ms. Pierce said. "Their bodies can't process [the nitrates]. Basically, it prevents the blood from absorbing oxygen.

They can get a condition called blue-baby syndrome, and it could be fatal."

From June, 1999, to June, 2007, Fremont received 12 citations for nitrate violations.

"That's not typical," Ms. Pierce said. "There shouldn't be any violations."

But the U.S. and Ohio EPAs also are requiring Fremont to get rid of its 13 stormwater overflow valves in a project that will cost the city an estimated $67 million over the next 20 years.

Fremont is one of several Ohio cities with combined stormwater and sewer water systems.

Ms. Pierce said the federal EPA is demanding the outdated systems be eliminated nationwide because the release valves overflow during heavy rains and allow human waste to run into rivers and streams.

But Mayor Overmyer said numerous contaminant tests conducted by the city over the last few years prove Fremont's release valves are not polluting the river.

"The first 45 minutes of the storm flushes the whole system into the treatment plant," Mr. Overmyer said. "The [overflows are] actually diluting the water and helping to clean the river up.

"Why should we have to go out and ask for taxpayers' money when we're not making a negative impact?"

The water and sewer rate increase may be too much for some businesses to pay in the future, he said.

"There's some concerns out there from our big users that this is going to be significant increases to them.

"We are in the process of doing a rate study to spread this evenly," the mayor said.

Ms. Pierce said the Ohio EPA is trying to determine if Fremont is eligible for government loans to pay for the projects.

Contact Chauncey Alcorn at:

calcorn@theblade.com

or 419-724-6168.



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