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Toledo council OKs regionwide water system

Resolution allows panel to proceed with talks

  • Toledo-Water

    This 2014 photo shows the filter pipe gallery at the Collins Park Water Treatment Plant in Toledo. Plans for a regional water system will move forward after Toledo city council approved a nonbinding resolution Tuesday supporting such a system.

    THE BLADE
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    Water is mildly stirred to clump unwanted particulate in the flocculation tanks inside the Collins Park Water Treatment in East Toledo.

    THE BLADE/KATIE RAUSCH
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Plans for a regional water system will move forward after Toledo city council approved a nonbinding resolution Tuesday supporting such a system.

The city joined Maumee, Perrysburg, Sylvania, Fulton County, Lucas County, Monroe County, Whitehouse, Waterville, and Northwestern Water and Sewer in approving the resolution, which will enable discussions and plans to progress at the Toledo Metropolitan Area Council of Governments’ Regional Water Planning Committee meeting this morning.

“I’m very pleased that all 12 members of council and the mayor all agree that it’s time for us to move forward into negotiations related to the governance of the region’s most precious commodity, which is water,” Councilman Lindsay Webb, who heads the streets, water quality, and infrastructure committee, said. Ms. Webb led the charge to have the resolution adopted.

“We know that we’re better together,” she said. “It’s better for us to stick together as a region, to try to keep costs as low as possible, and to modernize not only the facilities but also the governance about how we make decisions about regional water.”

The regional plan would standardize rates for all of the stakeholders, which is one sticking point for critics of a regional plan. Figures from January, 2016, through October show Toledo received 47 percent of its water revenue from city residents, with 53 percent coming from suburban water customers, even though city water customers used 59 percent of the water provided by Collins Park, with the remaining 41 percent used by suburban water customers.

Equalizing rates for all stakeholders likely would mean higher rates for Toledo. But refusing to participate in the regional system could leave the city without suburban customers for its water, meaning the city would be responsible for a higher share of maintaining the aging Collins Park Water Treatment Plant.

Water rates will rise for Toledo in either case, Ms. Webb said, but keeping all parties in the system can keep that cost increase contained.

The resolution adopted by Toledo is mostly identical to the resolution adopted by other communities, except for language regarding the system’s governing structure. Other communities approved language supporting a regional water system with meaningful shared governance. Toledo’s resolution, in contrast, supported the exploration of such a system.

“It’s a complicated piece for us, in terms of our bonding,” Mayor Paula Hicks-Hudson said.

“The city of Toledo has bonded out approximately $300 million in projects,” Ms. Webb said. “We need to keep that in consideration. It’s not like suddenly we’re going to turn over all of the assets of our water system to the region.”

Ms. Hicks-Hudson supports the proposal for a new regional authority, saying the city needs to have redundancy to keep the water supply safe. She referred to the nearly three-day period in August, 2014, when Toledo’s water was fouled by toxic algae and made undrinkable. The city has one intake from which it draws Lake Erie water and one treatment plant where it treats that lake water to be consumed by more than 500,000 regional customers.

“I want this work to not be for just the present, but also for future development,” she said, adding that a regional water system that secures safe drinking water can be a tool for economic development.

Critics of the plan have said a regional authority would unfairly burden the city, which has already invested Toledo taxpayer money in the current water system.

“Toledoans built this system with their money,” former Mayor Carty Finkbeiner said previously. “How will Toledo get credit for the cost Toledoans have put into the water infrastructure and sewer infrastructure?”

Mr. Finkbeiner was not present for the resolution’s adoption and did not respond to a request for comment.

Discussions on how a regional system would be governed, and what capital improvements will be made to the existing system, will begin today.

Staff writer Ignazio Messina contributed to this report.

Contact Zack Lemon at: zlemon@theblade.com, 419-724-6282, or on Twitter @zack_lemon.

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