CINCINNATI -- Lower Price Hill residents fear that tons of human waste will be shipped into their neighborhood daily.
Metropolitan Sewer District officials say they have "worked closely with the community" and do not intend to ship the "sludge" to the Mill Creek plant, but Hamilton County officials are still considering that plan.
A deadline is looming for local officials to propose changes for the Little Miami treatment plant, which is the second largest sewage treatment plant operated by the MSD.
The Little Miami plant will not meet new EPA federal emissions standards by the March 21 deadline, according to MSD Director Gérald Checco.The MSD has known about the upcoming deadline for 12 months.
Checco said city and county officials "are in talks with the U.S. EPA to negotiate an extension to continue operating the Little Miami incinerator for up to a year."
Disagreement between the city and county regarding funding has held up movement on any solutions, Checco said. The city and county have an agreement regarding the sewer district: the city runs the MSD and the county owns it.
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Moving the displaced waste to the Mill Creek plant is not off the table -- Checco said the county has "expressed interest in revisiting the original plan of hauling the sludge to the Mill Creek plant."
The Mill Creek treatment plant in Lower Price Hill is the city's largest treatment plant and located 8.7 miles from the Little Miami plant.
The Price Hill Community Council submitted letters to Mayor John Cranley, the Hamilton County Commissioners, all members of City Council and City Manager Harry Black.
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"No one at the county or city thought to discuss that idea with residents and businesses in Lower Price Hill," wrote Eileen Gallagher, secretary of the Lower Price Hill Community Council.
The letters to local lawmakers were sent Friday; on Monday, the MSD met with Hamilton County officials to discuss the Lower Mill Creek Partial Remedy. The Little Miami incinerator was not discussed at the meeting.
"At a time when many citizens believe that some public servants are disconnected from the people whose well-being they swear to represent, the Metropolitan Sewer District's current debacle sounds like veritable proof," wrote Jack Degano, president of the Lower Price Hill Community Council. "Here we are mere weeks away from a possible federal shutdown of the Little Miami plant, yet two public entities that own/manage the MSD cannot agree on a solution.
"We strongly recommend that you use your influence to avert an absurd alternative to an MSD management problem that should not have been allowed to happen," Degano wrote in a letter to the mayor dated Friday. "We will not accept the daily trucking of tons of human waste into Lower Price Hill."
Checco said MSD has no intention of "hauling sludge to the Mill Creek plant."
"MSD has been working closely with the Lower Price Hill community on this issue," Checco said in a statement Monday.
Checco said MSD will stop operating the Little Miami incinerator before the March 21 deadline and human waste from the plant will be hauled to the Rumpke landfill.
Checco said city officials and MSD are in agreement on an "environmentally friendly and lower cost long-term solution," in which the waste would be turned into farm fertilizer.
"However, the city is unable to proceed with this plan because the County is unwilling to authorize funding. Contrary to its original position, the County is now expressing an interest in revisiting the original plan of hauling the sludge to the Mill Creek plant, which the City opposes."
The city-county agreement over MSD's control is set to expire in 2018, but Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune said waiting the two-and-a-half years for the agreement -- made in 1968 -- to expire would be "two-and-a-half years too long."
Mid-February, a review by the Hamilton County monitor found the sewer district to be ignoring its own modeling procedures, meant for defining pipe sizes for sewer projects. The review estimated that only 2 percent of the more than $2 billion in current and planned projects were modeled in compliance with MSD’s standards.
The county monitor estimated the cost of addressing the modeling-related problems at more than $100 million.
“It’s discouraging to learn that MSD opposes a rule that would only help to deliver projects on time and to save ratepayer dollars and ensure that projects are neither overbuilt nor underbuilt,” County Comissioner Chris Monzel said.
In response, an MSD risk assessment memo, prepared by City Solicitor Paula Boggs Muething, was delivered to City Manager Harry Black Monday in late February. The findings require continued investigation, Boggs Muething said, and included
- mismanagement of the budget and contracting
- “widespread” use of contractors and consultants instead of a full time city employee
- potential misuse of ratepayer or city funds
Boggs Muething recommended Black call on an investigative team that is “in all respects independent” from city officials and administration to audit the district.
“The concerns raised in the course of these preliminary interviews are of a grave nature,” Boggs Muething concluded.