Sewer expansion headed toward EPA permit review

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By Kayla Beard


The Athens County Commissioners on Tuesday authorized a permit application to the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency for the sanitary sewer expansion project in the U.S. Rt. 50 corridor southwest of Athens.

This is considered a significant move forward for the long-planned project, which seeks to replace environmentally questionable individual septic systems in rural subdivisions southwest of Athens with central sewer service connected to the city of Athens’ system.

Meanwhile, in a separate meeting Monday evening, Athens City Council voted to approve design engineering services for the city’s portion of the project, and to issue $485,000 of loan notes, $300,000 of which will go toward the sewer expansion and will be reimbursed by the county.

Engineering is nearing completion on the county’s project, with overall costs estimated at more than $28 million. Homeowners in the sewer district will pay much of those costs through monthly assessments, as well as paying one-time costs for tying into the system and abandoning their septic systems.

According to previous Athens NEWS reports, Kyle Schwieterman, lead engineer with HDR Inc. (the Omaha, Nebraska-based firm conducting design work on the project), the costs through final design/bidding for the expansion project are $1.9 million (which includes Phase I, II and III engineering, design, loan applications, environmental reports, surveying and bidding), plus $850,000 for legal and land acquisition costs.

The project has been on Athens County’s radar for 23 years, after the state EPA sent a notice in 1995 detailing environmental concerns related to the use of septic-tank systems in rural residential areas southwest of Athens. The project has since been approved to receive $14.3 million of funding as a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and another $14.5 million in funding from the USDA as a 40-year loan with 2 percent interest.

With Athens County Commissioner Chris Chmiel absent on Tuesday, Commissioners Lenny Eliason and Charlie Adkins signed the design plan title sheets for the project and EPA permit forms, which will be submitted, along with complete plans, to the EPA for approval. “We are ready to submit on that this week,” Schwieterman of HDR told the board on Tuesday.

Schwieterman also informed the Commissioners that the company continues to work with field agents to obtain needed easements from county residents, which are needed from property owners who have main sewer lines running through their land. The easements call for the properties to be returned to their prior condition as much as reasonably possible.

Commissioner Eliason explained in April that easements were required from around 200 of the roughly 1,200 homeowners in the sewer-extension project. If homeowners don’t sign voluntarily, the county reserves the right to use eminent domain, he said, though he stressed this would be a last resort.

HDR representatives have met with a plan reviewer from the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) to go over the plans, Schwieterman said at Tuesday’s meeting. “We got his blessing on all of the locations that we currently have the sewer near and around,” Schwieterman said, adding that the plans will be submitted to ODOT, as well, since construction will occur near Ohio Rts. 50 and 56. The plans will be submitted to a handful of other entities, as well, Schwieterman said, including the OEPA’s Wastewater Permit-to-Install program, local utilities, county officials, and township leaders for the two affected townships (Athens and Alexander).

“We’re making progress, moving forward,” Schwieterman said. “We feel good about where the plans are.”

Schwieterman said his team plans to set up a meeting with the state EPA to go over some of the project details “because of the substantial amount of plans” involved with the project. Typically, he said, it takes about three to four months to get a response from the EPA. 

Schwieterman said that county leaders can expect to see nearly complete copies of the plans in the next couple of weeks. 

He said the plan is to put the project out for bids next spring, with construction following in late spring or early summer.

AS STATED, ATHENS City Council adopted an ordinance at its regular meeting Monday evening, council’s first meeting following a recess in July, to begin the design engineering phase of the sewer project on the city’s end.

“This expansion project has been in the works for many years,” council member Chris Fahl said. Basically, the city will accept sewer connections from the county, and must begin designing “the new stations that will help to regulate the flow (of sewage) and make sure it flows the right way,” she explained. 

The county is taking the lead on the project, Fahl said. “They’re the ones who are doing all the heavy lifting, and they’re the ones who will get the grants and the bonds and loans,” Fahl said. “It will be their project and… once we do the design and the project starts, they will reimburse us for any of the design costs that we have.”

Council members also adopted an ordinance to allow the issuance of $485,000 of loan notes, in part to pay for the sewer project. Council member Jeff Risner said, “It is advisable and probably prudent” to borrow the funds “rather than to dip into what funds we may have within our sewer fund or within the general fund.”

The city has borrowed the same type of notes in the past for other projects, Risner said. “Then, like any good borrower we pay it back, with some interest.” That money also will go toward funding a dewatering project at the water treatment plant ($170,000) and for improvements to Factory Street ($15,000) as well.

The dewatering project, Hecht said in an email Tuesday, “has to do with sludge removal by reducing the water in our sludge to reduce the cost of removal and disposal from the plant.” The money for the sewer project will be repaid by the county, and the money for the Factory Street repairs will “hopefully” be repaid by the contractor, Hecht said.

Fahl on Monday described the sewer expansion project as “a win-win for the city,” citing environmental concerns as the major motivation for the city’s participation and cooperation with the county on the project. “This project is not like an economic development project,” Fahl said. “It’s to alleviate nonpoint water pollution that is going into Margaret Creek, mostly from failing septic systems. This has been identified as a priority in both the city and the county plan(s).”

City Engineer Bob Heady said in an email Tuesday that the project also will benefit the city by providing needed upgrades to the city’s sanitary sewer lift stations on Ohio Rt. 56 and Richland Avenue, and an evaluation of a lift station at Depot Street.