Council weighs deal in sewer system suit

The city has already spent almost $700,000 in legal fees in its defense.
YOUNGSTOWN -- A settlement saving the city and its residents hundreds of millions of dollars appears to be near in a lawsuit in which the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said the city's sewer system violates the Clean Water Act.
The proposed settlement, presented to city council Wednesday, is expected to come back before council next Wednesday, and Councilman Ronald Sefcik, D-4th, chairman of council's public utilities committee, is urging his colleagues to vote for it because of the savings.
"We've gotten the optimum amount of concessions that we're going to get from the federal government. We think this is a good deal," Iris Torres Guglucello, deputy law director, told council.
The suit, filed against the city in October 1998 in U.S. District Court in Akron, and later joined by the Ohio EPA, is set for trial May 20 if no settlement can be reached before then, and defending against it has already cost the city $694,009 in legal fees and $92,605 in expert fees.
Mayor George McKelvey urged council to support the proposed settlement, rather than "fighting this for two or three more years, incurring millions in additional legal fees and getting very little in return."
Costly demands: Adhering to the U.S. EPA's initial demands would have cost the city $212 million over five to 10 years for express sewers to carry wastewater originating outside the city directly to the treatment plant, plus $285 million in fines for some 14,296 illegal sewage discharge incidents over five years, Torres Guglucello told council. The city's system also carries waste from communities outside the city limits.
Under the proposed settlement, the city would pay a $60,000 fine and make $12 million in short-term improvements over the next six years, including elimination of a sewer overflow at Orchard Meadow near Mill Creek Park's Lilly Pond, elimination of illegal sewer connections, and replacement of the Meadowbrook and Lansdowne pump stations.
Long-term plan: As part of the settlement, the city would also have to develop a long-term sewage discharge control plan estimated to cost $100 million over 20 years.
The average household pays $32.87 a month for sewer service. Under the proposed settlement, that would rise gradually to $38.09 in 2006. If the city had been forced to comply with the EPA's initial demands, that cost would skyrocket to $167.87 per month in 2006, the mayor said.
Sewer charges for city residents are included in combined bills for water and sewer service and garbage collection.

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