The city of Akron is moving forward with an aggressive plan to resolve an argument that has consumed decades: how and how fast to fix an aging sewer system to prevent overflows that contaminate the Cuyahoga River, the Little Cuyahoga and the Ohio & Erie Canal. Among other projects, work is expected to begin in April 2014 on a more than one-mile-long tunnel, 27 feet in interior diameter, to contain contaminated water.
Buried 150 feet and stretching from near the intersection of West Market Street and the Innerbelt to just south of Memorial Parkway, the $200 million tunnel represents a strong commitment to dramatically improve water quality.
City leaders correctly see the problems with further delay, project costs increasing and the possibility of penalties for delays in meeting court-approved deadlines. Not only is financing relatively cheap, but work on containment and treatment projects will provide a boost in employment.
Behind the flurry of planning lies a new agreement reached late last year between the city, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Ohio EPA. The plan, with a total cost of $890 million, would virtually eliminate sewage overflows by 2027, affecting the rates of some 300,000 sewer customers in Akron and its surrounding suburbs.
The city has done its part to compromise. It sought more flexibility, properly considering the effect on ratepayers, but the U.S. EPA prevailed on a harder line, as urged by U.S. District Court Judge John Adams, who rejected a similar agreement nearly two years ago over concerns about the deadlines, among other issues.
It is now time for Judge Adams to do his part. His approval of the new agreement would sustain the momentum established by city planners and engineers toward the goal of zero overflows, all but eliminating the annual discharge of up to 2 billion gallons of raw sewage and stormwater. Hundreds of other cities with old sewer systems have done the job, meeting the worthy goals of the Clean Water Act. In Akron, the work will not only improve water quality, but also the quality of life in and around the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, a major asset for the entire region.