City of Cleveland Heights to increase sewer fees to comply with Clean Water Act
Once the city of Cleveland Heights institutes phase one of a sanitary sewer remediation plan, prompted by a proposed federal Consent Decree, CH residents’ sewer bills will increase. The federal government is enforcing the Clean Water Act of 1972, which requires municipal sanitary collection systems to operate without overflows during wet weather.
The city held a public meeting on May 16 to explain the situation to residents.
The $12 million dollar remediation plan will be funded by adjusting current sewer fees, which means that a typical resident who currently pays about $7 per month would see his fee increase to approximately $18.73 per month.
This increase is set to take effect in October, but because sewer fees are billed quarterly residents won’t see it reflected in their sewer bills until January 2018. The fees will continue to increase by another 3 percent in both 2019 and 2020.
The five-year phase one of the plan is designed to define system problems and develop a master plan to address the issues that can be implemented over time. The city is working with the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District (NEORSD) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to study the city’s sewer system with the goal of developing a new sewer system that will handle overflow more efficiently and prevent runoff of raw sewage and other pollutants into Lake Erie.
The study is needed to understand the complicated “over-under,” 100-year-old CH sewer system. EPA enforcement attorney Jim Vinch stated at the May 16 meeting that he had never before seen a sewer system like CH’s.
Another goal of phase one is to optimize costs for phase two, which would be an implementation of the proposed “overflow control plan,” according to outside legal counsel Lou McMahon, who also spoke at the meeting.
The overflow control plan is designed to eliminate all Sanitary Sewer Overflows (SSOs) in the Cleveland Heights sewer system. Because the city’s system is so outdated, SSOs containing raw sewage have been leaking into rivers and tributaries such as Doan Brook, and eventually end up in Lake Erie—especially during wet weather. The Clean Water Act of 1972, which is enforced by the EPA, requires that all cities must operate without any of these SSOs.
“The city is absolutely committed to solving this problem,” Cleveland Heights City Manager Tanisha Briley told the crowd of about 40 at the CH Community Center on May 16. Briley explained that the proposed two-phased approach would provide the city with the “best bang for their buck” by allowing it to study the sewer problem first. Similar to the city’s sewer system, this two-phased approach is something that is generally uncommon, but city officials and the EPA feel that this is the most effective way to deal with the problem.
Briley also addressed the fact that there are some residents who will be unable to take on the increased sewer fees due to this sewer issue. Although smaller homes and those owned by seniors already typically have lower than average sewer fees because they use less water, she stated that the city is creating a payment assistance program that will help these residents pay for the increased sewer fees.
Cleveland Heights City Council will consider the Consent Decree and rate increase at its June 5 and 19 meetings. Upon its passage, the city, NEORSD and the EPA are slated to execute the Consent Decree, which will be reviewed by a federal judge.
For more information about the May 16 meeting and the two-phased Consent Decree, visit the city’s website, www.clevelandheights.com, where the city has created a Sewer Information button on the homepage, linking to a situation summary, draft plan and other information.
In the meantime, the city encouraged residents to use rain barrels, as they would be especially helpful during rainy days over the summer. The city has created a specific e-mail address for residents who have further questions about this issue: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Connor O'Brien is an upcoming senior majoring in Communication and minoring in English at John Carroll University. He is currently an intern for the Heights Observer.