the Beacon Journal editorial board

Dan Horrigan did something last week that few would have expected from an Akron mayor. He applauded federal Judge John Adams. The mayor’s predecessor, Don Plusquellic, clashed repeatedly with the judge, in particular, over the lawsuit involving the overhaul of the city’s combined sewer system. Horrigan expressed his appreciation for the judge’s “due diligence” in approving changes to the consent decree negotiated among city, state and federal officials.

What a difference a change in administration, or tone and approach, can make.

The significance of the judge’s decision rests in the potential for advancing in other ways to adopt less expensive, green alternatives in meeting the necessary environmental requirements of the decree, including zero overflows of untreated wastewater into the Cuyahoga River. The change means the city will not have to build a parallel pipe in the Merriman Valley. The city will save a projected $30 million, foregoing such things as relocating utilities and disrupting further the Towpath Trail.

The idea is, this would be a first step, the city eventually reaching agreement with state and federal officials on a handful of similar adjustments, the judge giving his approval, the city saving perhaps as much as $200 million. That still would leave a total cost in excess $1 billion, yet such savings clearly rate as significant and welcome.

This green, or integrated, plan complements a second track in pursuing savings — more favorable financing. The city already has won a financial break from the state Environmental Protection Agency, a 30-year loan at minimal interest, saving $18.7 million.

State lawmakers have enacted financing mechanisms covering 45 years. Now the tools must be funded. For Mayor Horrigan, the extended time to pay for the project fits into his persuasive thinking that the entire cost should not fall on one generation, especially with successor generations benefiting from the improvements, starting with a more accessible Cuyahoga.

The federal government also has an opportunity to ease the financial burden. U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, an Ohio Democrat, has been pressing for years to see Washington make available additional funds for sewer works projects. The Senate just approved $1.8 billion in funding for the next five years. The measure awaits action in the House.

The amount, again, appears small in view of the task facing just Ohio cities. The federal government should provide more money and allow flexibility in financing. After all, Akron and others are seeking to meet its mandate.

Plain is that meeting the mandate is a good thing, the kind of investment in upgraded public works the country should be making, doing so in a manner sensitive to the environmental impact and the cost to ratepayers. Which is just what the city has achieved and Judge Adams now has approved.