Wastewater issue could cost city $147 million
The city could be facing $147 million in costs to upgrade its wastewater treatment system to meet U.S. EPA requirements.
Available options were discussed at Monday’s meeting of the city’s finance committee. Each option would create additional cost for the city and likely result in an increase in city residents’ wastewater bills.
The Environmental Protection Agency wants the city to complete three projects within 13 years, said Daniel Markowitz, principal scientist and certified projection manager from Arcadis, a company that does infrastructure work and is advising the city.
These involve $37 million in upgrades to the treatment plant; a new wet-weather facility to deal with heavier rain that would cost $62 million; and a $48 million interceptor that would keep wastewater from flowing into Mill Creek Park.
If the city follows the EPA timeline, city residents’ cost for wastewater treatment would increase by 5 percent a year for 10 years, he said.
The city has some options such as trying to extend the first phase of the EPA plan, which would reduce the increase to 4 percent a year for 10 years, Markowitz said.
The city also could use “green” options, which could entail shutting down parts of the wastewater system in abandoned areas of the city and allow that water to flow elsewhere. This would reduce how much is treated and therefore the cost.
The city also has the option of appearing before a federal judge to argue the city cannot afford the EPA request, and ask for another option, he said.
Martin Hume, city law director, said going before a judge is a risk for both the city and the EPA. The city could be held to an agreement made in 2013 that is “not considered to be in the best interest of the city.”
The city has to take some action in the event it has to appear in front of a judge, said David Bozanich, city finance director.
“It’s likely going to mean us doing something with rates,” he said.
A temporary rate increase would show the judge the city is operating “in good faith,” Bozanich said.
The city has been dealing with the EPA since 2002 regarding wastewater treatment, when the city submitted an “approvable plan” that was rejected by the agency, Markowitz said.
The issue with the wastewater system is not unique to Youngstown, he said. It impacts many cities in the area whose wastewater systems were built decades ago.
“Things just weren’t done the same back then as they are now,” Bozanich said.
The initial plan called for 85 percent wastewater capture, which is the legal requirement, Markowitz said.
“The EPA doesn’t approve plans with 85 percent capture anymore,” he said.
The agency wants treatment plans where there are only one to four events a year during which the system overflows, Markowitz said.
“The city shouldn’t be afraid about going before a judge,” said Mayor John McNally.
Youngstown has shown it is willing to put money forth to repair the wastewater system, he said. McNally also acknowledged the potential impact that increased rates would have on citizens.
“We already get calls every week about the water bill,” said Janet Tarpley, chair of the committee and 6th Ward councilwoman.
The issue of wastewater will be brought back to the committee for additional discussion within the next four to six weeks, McNally said.