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Village negotiates with Ohio EPA over wastewater plant

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The Village wastewater treatment plant has been cited by the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency for noncompliance with the regulations of its federal permit. Village Council learned of the citation during an executive session at its June 16 meeting, three months after the citation was issued. Council agreed after that meeting to hire an environmental attorney to work with the EPA to bring the plant back into compliance with the Ohio Revised Code.

“We’re trying to work with the EPA, and we’re seeking to be in compliance with the EPA as fast as we possibly can,” Council member Lori Askeland said last week.

Village Council learned about the Ohio EPA’s citation from newly appointed Interim Village Manager John Weithofer at the June 16 meeting. Ohio EPA Director Chris Korleski informed the Village in a draft order dated April 8 to then Village Manager Eric Swansen that the Village had violated its National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit by exceeding effluent limits on several occasions and failing to meet deadlines for necessary improvements to the plant.

The order proposed that the Village pay a fine of $76,779 and agree to meet a compliance schedule to bring the plant up to date by next year. The compliance schedule included establishing engineering plans within three months of receipt of the order, beginning construction within three months of that deadline and completing construction within nine months of breaking ground. The order also requested that the Village review the proposal and respond within 21 days to resolve the matter.

According to Askeland, though Council members were never informed of the EPA’s order, they were aware of ongoing correspondence between the Village and the EPA regarding a longstanding need for approximately $2.2 million in improvements to the plant that had been delayed for several years due to budgetary constraints. Council had agreed in December 2007 to use $1.2 million from an Ohio Public Works Commission Issue 2 grant, which would become available in 2009, and loans to pay for the improvements. Swansen had said at that time that the Village would apply for an extension to the EPA’s September 2008 compliance deadline.

In the meantime, the plant’s violations continued and eventually went to enforcement by the EPA, which resulted in the April letter from the director. The violations included a total of 127 incidents from January 2006 to December 2007 during which higher than legal levels of pollutants such as phosphorus, mercury, fecal coliform and chlorine were detected in the plant’s effluent. The violations occurred largely during heavy rains, which increased the total effluent beyond the plant’s capacity, causing nearly raw sewage to be discharged into the waters of Glen Helen and beyond.

Swansen did reply to the EPA’s draft order to request an extension on the response deadline, which the EPA granted until June 20, Askeland said. Council members learned this four days before the response was due, at which point Village Solicitor John Chambers advised them to retain Tim Hoffman, an environmental attorney from his firm Coolidge, Wall, Womsley & Lombard, to work with the EPA.

According to Chambers, the Village is scheduled to meet with the EPA sometime this month to outline a schedule that satisfies the needs and abilities of both parties to get the plant in compliance.

Attorneys from both sides are also discussing the civil penalties, Chambers said. According to Ohio EPA spokesperson Mike Settles, the EPA is generally open to negotiating civil penalties, which can sometimes be waived in exchange for additional plant improvements or other environmental projects.

Though a draft order from the EPA is an item that Askeland said would generally be wise to share with Council, she and other Council members are more focused on trying to resolve the current issue than trying to figure out exactly why the order came as a surprise to them.

“We feel quite confident in the people we’re working with, and we feel we’ll be able to solve the problem,” she said.

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