With little more than saying OK, Akron has saved millions from its billion-dollar sewer project.
Since 2015, Akron has utilized the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency’s Water Resource Restoration Sponsor Program to sponsor five projects plus three more on Monday. Each time the city “sponsors” another local government or nonprofit group seeking funding for a water conservation or habitat preservation project, the city shaves a tenth of a percentage point off the interest rate on state loans for its sewer projects.
All told, Akron has reduced future payments by $7,111,550.
So what does it mean to be a sponsor? Nothing, beyond picking projects from a list posted online and ranked by the Ohio EPA.
“Sponsoring these projects costs the city $0,” said Akron Public Service Director John Moore, who made a goose egg with his fingers and thumb to illustrate the city’s commitment to the council on Monday.
Moore and city engineer Heather Ullinger said no man hours will be exhausted. Because the sponsored agencies need not repay the money, which equal the savings from lower interest rates, there’s no risk for the city.
The state sponsorship program was initially designed to inspire good stewards of the environment to come together to conserve and preserve water. Lowering interest rates incentivized larger players, like Akron, to endorse smaller projects that ensure the “ecological function and biological diversity of Ohio’s water resources,” according to a website hosted by the Ohio EPA.
But the program has become more about saving money than collaborating locally.
The five projects Akron sponsored before Monday include two local jobs — the Western Reserve Land Conservancy’s Silver Creek Wetlands preservation projection and another at Bear Swamp headed up by the Medina County Park District.
The three projects selected on Monday were chosen from a list presented to city council: a dam removal in Williamsburg, a village east of Cincinnati; a Scioto River preservation project in Pickaway County; and a property acquisition and restoration project around another Appalachian area called the Cackley Swamp. For sponsoring these remote projects, Akron gets a 0.1-percent interest rate reduction, saving taxpayers $1.5 million over the next 45 years to build a $17.5 million storage basin today near the corner of Cuyahoga and North Howard streets.
Akron first participated in the Ohio EPA program in 2014, sponsoring itself for a $2.5 million project to remove invasive plant species and industrial structures from the Wilbeth Wetlands. The restoration project beautified and preserved swampy land visible from the Towpath Trail near the Coventry Township.
The $1.75 million the city saved on future debt payments to the state was funneled to its wetland project.
Doug Livingston can be reached at 330-996-3792 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter: @ABJDoug .