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Hamilton County 'absolutely unable to afford' EPA's proposed plan for MSD improvements

Posted at 6:01 PM, Jul 19, 2019
and last updated 2019-07-20 00:45:11-04

Tired of disagreements between the city of Cincinnati and the Hamilton County Board of Commissioners, federal agencies have proposed their own plan for the future of the beleaguered Metropolitan Sewer District — one that could raise customers’ sewer rates by as much as 70%.

Hamilton County commissioners voted Thursday to oppose the $1.97 billion wet weather improvement plan created by the EPA and Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission, writing in a resolution that “any simple, common-sense analysis clearly would show that our community is absolutely unable to afford” it.

MSD is owned by Hamilton County but operated by the city of Cincinnati, creating a double layer of management in which disagreements between the two agencies can force sewer projects to a halt.

Case in point: The city and county’s dueling proposals for MSD’s future, which they submitted separately in June.

The $616 million plan written by commissioners calls for MSD to complete 28 projects improving wet-weather readiness, preventing sewage backup and safeguarding against flooding from 2020-2025. It would increase customers’ rates by 3% during that time.

The city’s $1 billion plan, which it hopes to execute from 2020-2030, would involve 35 projects and boost customers’ rates by 29.3%.

And then, according to documents provided by the county, there’s the overriding plan submitted by federal regulators after receiving both. That plan includes 156 projects to be completed from 2020-2030 at a cost of $1.97 billion, hiking customers’ rates by 70% or more during that time.

If the city and county can’t agree on their own plans, the commissioners’ Thursday resolution suggests they should at least agree they don’t like the EPA’s.

“The Board of County Commissioners believes this is an issue of concern for the entire region,” it reads, calling in its title for “all local officials and legislative bodies to join Hamilton County in opposing the unaffordable plan advanced by federal and state regulators on the county sewer district.”

Commissioners argued that the EPA plan would have a “massive negative impact” on “ratepayers, home ownership, residents and businesses, not to mention industry exodus and economic development within the County.”

At West Side Brewing in Cincinnati, co-owner Joe Mumper said the effect of a rate increase on businesses like his could be dramatic. Brewing beer is a water-intensive process, and at a craft brewery, every dollar counts.

"That’s a cost we’d have to eat," he said of the proposed hike. "We’d definitely feel that. That’s a big number for us to absorb.”

Lois Sharp, who has lived in Norwood for 60 years, said Friday night she wasn't worried about increases but acknowledged other people likely would be — particularly with the prospect of paying 70% more than they do now.

"I don’t think 70% — people aren’t going to stand for that," she said