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Toledoans invited to weigh in on regional water plan

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    Maumee Mayor Rich Carr speaks before he and leaders from Toledo and the suburban communities that buy its water sign a memorandum of understanding to form the Toledo Area Water Authority Wednesday.

    The Blade/Dave Zapotosky
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    Toledo Mayor Wade Kapszukiewicz, left, and Sylvania Mayor Craig Stough shake hands while signing a memorandum of understanding to form the Toledo Area Water Authority Wednesday, January 31, 2018 at the Toledo Chamber of Commerce.

    The Blade/Dave Zapotosky
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    A memorandum of understanding to form the Toledo Area Water Authority lays on a table after being signed by leaders from Toledo and the suburban communities that buy its water, Wednesday, January 31, 2018 at the Toledo Chamber of Commerce office. The Blade/Dave Zapotosky

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Toledo City Council members will spend March gathering citizen feedback before they vote on joining a regional water system. Meanwhile, their suburban counterparts will conduct their own due diligence to ensure partnering with Toledo is the right move for their customers.

After years of discussions, leaders from Toledo, Lucas County, Maumee, Perrysburg, Sylvania, Whitehouse, Fulton County, Monroe County, and the Northwestern Water and Sewer District signed an agreement Jan. 31, paving the way for regional cooperation on water.

water01p-8

Maumee Mayor Rich Carr speaks before he and leaders from Toledo and the suburban communities that buy its water sign a memorandum of understanding to form the Toledo Area Water Authority Wednesday.

The Blade/Dave Zapotosky
Enlarge | Buy This Image

The agreement calls for the formation of a new Toledo Area Water Authority, which would equalize water rates across all participating communities within eight years and pursue a second water source to provide redundancy to the Collins Park Water Treatment Plant. But for that to happen, each municipality’s legislative body — such as Toledo City Council — must sign off on the new system.

The agreement signed in January set March 15 as the date by which all nine parties would agree to petition Lucas County Common Pleas Court to officially form the new authority, but it is clear Toledo City Council will need more time.

Council member Nick Komives, who chairs the city’s water quality and sustainability committee, said the administration has scheduled public informational meetings about TAWA in each of the city’s six districts. He doesn’t anticipate city council will take a vote until those meetings are complete.

“I think people should come out to hear the proposal and to ask what questions they think are important,” he said. “City Council is relying on the thoughts and comments and questions that citizens have, and we want to make sure that we do best by Toledoans.”

Eric Rothstein, the consultant hired by the Toledo Regional Chamber of Commerce to help the parties reach consensus, said Toledo taking some extra time to act shouldn’t set the process back.

water01p-7

Toledo Mayor Wade Kapszukiewicz, left, and Sylvania Mayor Craig Stough shake hands while signing a memorandum of understanding to form the Toledo Area Water Authority Wednesday, January 31, 2018 at the Toledo Chamber of Commerce.

The Blade/Dave Zapotosky
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“Each of the communities need to provide adequate time for their communities to consider the MOU and how they’re going to proceed,” he said. “We set a target date, but there’s no surprise that with Toledo it will be a more involved process.”

But some communities don’t want to wait too long to petition the court. Maumee’s contract for Collins Park water expires in 2026, and Mayor Richard Carr said he needs to know sooner rather than later if TAWA is going to come to fruition. If it doesn’t, it’s going to take five or six years for his backup plan to take shape, he said.

Maumee’s backup plan would be to leave Toledo’s system and purchase its water from Bowling Green, a switch Waterville officials made a year ago. Perrysburg Mayor Tom Mackin said he, too, is considering the Bowling Green plan, although Perrysburg’s contract with Toledo doesn’t expire until 2027.

Under that scenario, Bowling Green likely would need to expand its reservoir and build water lines to serve Maumee and Perrysburg. Mayors Mackin and Carr agree they’d prefer to move forward with TAWA, but neither wants to be left with an expired contract with Toledo and no water lines connected to a source they say would be more affordable.

That’s why the option to switch to Bowling Green still is on the table, they said.

“I know it’s going to take years to take another source of water and be able to connect it to Maumee, so I had to look for an alternative in case TAWA didn’t become a reality,” Mayor Carr said. “If I didn’t and things stay the same, our residents’ water rates would more than triple by February of 2026.”

One looming question is whether Toledo is legally required through its charter to put the TAWA decision to a vote of the citizens. The TAWA agreement calls for the new authority to assume ownership of the Collins Park plant and Toledo’s other water system assets, a move that former Mayor Paula Hicks-Hudson’s administration argued could only happen through a referendum. 

Mr. Komives said city council is waiting for a legal opinion on the matter from Mayor Wade Kapszukiewicz’s administration. If a vote has to take place, that likely would delay the current TAWA timeline.

“Discussions around that as a possibility are ramping up at this time,” he said.

Mr. Komives said he expects to have a legal opinion in the next couple of weeks.

Mayor Kapszukiewicz has advocated for a regional water agreement since before he took office, a position he reiterated at his State of the City Address on Thursday.

“I believe this is something we need to do,” he said.

Maumee and Perrysburg aren’t the only communities that remain dialed in to their backup plans as TAWA discussions move forward. Sylvania and Monroe County have been talking about forming their own water system for months, and officials said those discussions will continue until TAWA is formed.

Sylvania’s contract with Toledo expires in 2028, and Monroe County’s expires in 2031. Kevin Aller, Sylvania’s service director, said Sylvania City Council likely will vote on the TAWA petition in mid-March.

“Our primary efforts are on the regional water,” Mr. Aller said. “Our primary goal is to make this thing happen, but yes, we are still doing other functions to make sure that we’ve got that backup as far as we can get it if we need to move that direction.”

Staff writer Jay Skebba contributed to this report.

Contact Sarah Elms at selms@theblade.com419-724-6103, or on Twitter @BySarahElms.

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