Bob Downing

The Oregon law professor investigating Akron’s sewer system and the proposed $837 million remedy is awaiting additional information before he makes a recommendation.

Craig Johnston, of Lewis and Clark College’s Law School in Portland, said he expects to get new information from the city of Akron, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Ohio EPA by Oct. 18. He made the request for the information in late August.

Johnston said he expects it will take him about a month after getting the information to complete his report to U.S. District Judge John Adams.

The federal judge hired Johnston on June 3 to review the engineering and financial steps proposed to reduce Akron’s overflowing combined sewers that pollute the Cuyahoga and Little Cuyahoga rivers and the Ohio & Erie Canal after heavy rains and snow melts.

Johnston is expected to submit a report with recommendations to Adams, who must decide whether a proposed consent decree that the city, federal government and state all support is “fair, adequate and reasonable, as well as consistent with the public interest.”

“I cannot yet claim to have mastered the entire record,” Johnston said in an Aug. 20 report filed in court papers.

He questioned whether the parties involved have “introduced all relevant materials into the judicial record.” He also filed a six-page request for additional information.

Adams, on Aug. 29, ordered the parties to comply.

With the help of two students, Johnston said he has “reviewed many hundreds of pages of testimony, declarations, exhibits and other case-related materials pertaining to both the effectiveness and timeliness of the proposed decree.”

Through Aug. 20, Johnston said he had worked 123.5 hours on the Akron case. His two legal assistants put in an additional 81.9 hours.

He estimated that it would take another 50 hours to review the new data and complete his report.

Adams has approved Johnston being paid $450 an hour by the city and the two EPAs. That could put the professor’s final bill at about $115,000.

Akron and the two EPAs were against hiring Johnston and said they thought his pay was too high. The judge disagreed.

Akron has 34 remaining sewer outlets that annually discharge up to 2 billion gallons of raw sewage and stormwater into the local waterways.

Adams rejected a proposed consent decree in March 2011. He said the agreement troubled him because the sewer problems were polluting the Cuyahoga River in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park with high bacteria counts and pathogens and because he wanted the sewer cleanup completed far more quickly than the 18 years outlined in that plan.

A revised agreement was submitted to Adams in 2012. It calls for work to be completed by 2027. The Ohio EPA and the city of Akron are moving forward with the plan, even though it has not been approved.

Akron would be required to eliminate all untreated sewer discharges with a system of retention basins, two giant tunnels, a special treatment plant for raw sewage and stormwater from overflows from one tunnel, relief sewers and improvements to the city’s sewer system.

Bob Downing can be reached at 330-996-3745 or bdowning@thebeaconjournal.com.