The question of how residents of Akron and surrounding communities will deal with sewer bills no one can afford was the dominant and recurring theme Wednesday at a meeting with the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency.
Scott Grieshammer of Stow called bills that will triple or quadruple to pay for the elimination of overflowing sewers “totally unrealistic.”
He said he already is looking at $2,000-a-month sewer bills for his Akron business and cannot afford higher fees.
He called for the sewer work to be spread out over a longer period of time to see whether the later projects are even necessary, a proposal that drew applause from the 60 people attending the meeting at Akron-Summit County Public Library downtown.
Ron Huber of North Hill said most Akron residents “can’t take another hit like this” with bigger sewer bills. He said a number of houses on his street are abandoned, and he fears bigger sewer bills will have a big impact on neighborhoods like his.
The city and the agencies involved in the sewer cleanups “just don’t get it,” he said. “No one can afford what they’re talking about.”
Some spoke in support of Akron’s latest revised plan to curtail overflows from 34 combined sewers that empty into the Cuyahoga and Little Cuyahoga rivers and the Ohio & Erie Canal.
“I’m tired of smelling the river,” said Akron resident John Beatty, a retired minister and a bike patrol member who pedals along the Cuyahoga River.
Elaine Marsh of Fairlawn, a spokeswoman for the Friends of the Crooked River, a grass-roots group interested in the Cuyahoga River, said the combined sewers have been a problem for over a half century.
“It is way past time for this untenable situation to be cleaned up,” she said.
Dan Rice of the Ohio & Erie Canalway Coalition said Akron needs more than 15 years to complete the sewer work that is in the city’s 1,300-page Long-Term Control Plan.
That plan, with a price tag of $890 million, calls for two tunnels to store sewer overflows, plus 10 concrete storage basins around the city to control the overflows. Also planned are relief sewers, high-rate treatment facilities and expansion of the city’s sewage treatment plant off Akron-Peninsula Road.
The sewer projects must be completed by Oct. 31, 2027.
Up to 2 billion gallons of untreated or partially treated sewage annually end up in local waterways after heavy rains because of Akron’s combined sewers.
About 30 percent of Akron’s sewer system, which serves 328,000 people in Akron and 13 suburbs, is made up of combined sewers.
The plan is part of a negotiated consent decree between the U.S. Justice Department, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine’s office and the city.
The Ohio EPA’s approval of the long-term plan is required before the consent decree can be submitted to U.S. District Judge John Adams for his approval.
Last March, Adams rejected a similar proposal.
EPA spokesman Mike Settles said the agency probably will act on Akron’s plan within a few weeks, after a public comment period ends Wednesday.
Comments should be sent to Ohio EPA, Division of Surface Water, Permits Processing Unit, P.O. Box 1049, Columbus, OH 43216, or emailed to email@example.com.
The revised plan and related documents are available for public review at the Ohio EPA’s Northeast Ohio regional office, 2110 E. Aurora Road, Twinsburg. Call 330-963-1200 for information.
Bob Downing can be reached at 330-996-3745 or firstname.lastname@example.org.