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Published: Tuesday, 7/12/2011

Toledo won't seek EPA sewer extension

BY IGNAZIO MESSINA
BLADE STAFF WRITER

The city of Toledo will not seek an extension to its federally mandated sewer upgrade designed to keep raw sewage out of waterways, officials announced Monday.

Toledo Councilman Joe McNamara, who had been pressing Mayor Mike Bell to seek an extension from the Environmental Protection Agency to complete the Toledo Waterways Initiative as a way to reduce sewer and water bills, said the issue would be dropped since U.S. District Court Judge James Carr would not support the idea. Mr. McNamara had championed the proposal as a way to reduce water and sewer bills.

“I think a lot of people are concerned that the water bills are too high during these tough economic times and I am disappointed,” Mr. McNamara said. “I would have liked for the city to present the case to Judge Carr, but with the judge’s comments, there will not be the support to spend the resources to make the case for an extension of time.”

Mr. McNamara acknowledged that seeking an extension of the project would be costly and without guarantees.

The city already has won a previous extension on the work. A consent decree negotiated in federal court several years ago called for the work to be finished by 2016, though at the time the project was envisioned to cost $450 million — less than the current estimate of $521 million. The four-year extension was negotiated successfully.

City Law Director Adam Loukx Monday said Judge Carr during a conference call last week, said he would not support the extension.

“The judge said it was time to stop the effluence from flowing into the river and he would not look favorably on any extension,” Mr. Loukx said. “His message was crystal clear.”

George Robinson II, commissioner of Toledo’s public utilities department, has not supported seeking an extension. He said pushing out the timeline for the work also would increase the cost for the city.

Last month, the Bell administration submitted a proposal to increase storm water rates for Toledoans by 9.9 percent a year for the next four years — four months after water rates were increased by 9 percent annually for four years and sanitary sewer rates were increased by 3 percent annually for four years, with a fixed surcharge to pay for the Toledo Waterways Initiative.

The Bell administration said the average customer who uses 3,000 cubic feet of water every three months will pay $186.75 for that time period this year, a jump in cost from the average quarterly bill of $164 in 2010. In 2012, the cost will increase by another $7 a quarter; in 2013, it jumps another $7.40 a quarter, and then another $7.85 in 2014.

A person with a homestead exemption discount, who uses an average of 1,000 cubic feet of water a quarter, paid about $58.86 during that time period in 2010. That cost will jump to $72.75 this year. The cost will again increase to $74.86 in 2012; $77.10 in 2013; and $79.46 in 2014.

The bills are a combination of water, sanitary sewer, and storm water sewer charges. They affect all Toledo water and sewer customers, whether they live in the city or suburbs.

The fixed surcharges appear on bills as “TWI fixed,” which stands for Toledo Waterways Initiative. It is a $15.82 quarterly charge for regular users throughout all four years, and $11.87 quarterly for users with a homestead exemption. The Bell administration originally wanted greater increases.

Contact Ignazio Messina at: imessina@theblade.com or 419-724-6171.



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