Wednesday, September 26, 2012

County hearings on Lower Mill Creek sewer alternatives underway

Hamilton County's public comment period for the Metropolitan Sewer District of Greater Cincinnati's (MSD) proposed solutions to combined sewer overflows (CSO) in the Lower Mill Creek watershed began today at Commission Chambers, located at 138 E Court Street Downtown.

Phase 1 solutions of the two-phased project are detailed and compared in the Lower Mill Creek Partial Remedy Report, the culmination of nearly three years of study and public outreach that examined potential solutions to CSOs in the sub-watersheds of Lick Run, Bloody Run, Kings Run, and the West Fork.

The full Lower Mill Creek watershed covers approximately 40,000 acres – or 62.5 square miles – and contributes more than half of the 14 billion gallons of combined raw sewage, waste water, and stormwater that overflow annually from CSOs across the county.

MSD is under a 2002 federal consent decree to capture, treat, or remove at least 85 percent of this overflow. To accomplish that goal, the agency has undertaken a $3.2 billion program called Project Groundwork to rebuild and upgrade the county's sewer system.

Potential solutions include everything from the traditional "gray" approach of underground storage tunnels, pump stations and treatment facilities to more sustainable approaches, such as new storm sewers, stormwater retention basins, and the restoration of previously existing streams.

The total cost for both phases is estimated to be between $629.9 million and $1.24 billion. Specific projects for Phase 2 will be prepared for submittal to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency by December 31, 2017.

Smaller projects, such as a series of gates, pumps, and inflatable dams at existing CSO outfalls, has already reduced overflows by 400 million gallons.

Largest CSO largest issue

The most contentious part of MSDs plans has been the $195 million proposal to "daylight" Lick Run, currently a 3,700-foot-long underground concrete pipe – 19.5 feet in diameter – that drains a 2,700-acre watershed that includes the neighborhood of South Fairmount and portions of East Price Hill, West Price Hill, and Westwood.

Lick Run is home to the largest CSO in Hamilton County, CSO 5, dispensing 1.7 billion gallons of raw sewage and stormwater directly into the Mill Creek.

According to MSD, daylighting would have other positive neighborhood effects such as the stimulation of market-rate redevelopment and infill, the creation of multi-use cultural trails and a civic/recreation hub, and transportation and streetscape improvements – creating a more viable and walkable business district.

But community groups such as the South Fairmount Community Council, South Fairmount Business Association, and Knox Hill Neighborhood Association believe that a "glorified drainage ditch" will result in destruction of the neighborhood's historic heritage and tax base through widespread demolition.

MSD has already razed dozens of houses in the flood plain in Northside and North Fairmount.

The community is pursuing national historic designation for the neighborhood. A recent report prepared by preservation consultants Gray & Pape identified nearly three dozen historic assets in the neighborhood, with an additional ten contributing structures now held by MSD.

MSD did look at a second alternative, a 1.2-mile-long tunnel – 30 feet in diameter – but rejected it because it would cost twice as much to build, would cost three times as much for annual operation and maintenance, and would provide little community improvement.

Additional hearings

Additional public hearings are scheduled for Commission Chambers on October 3 and October 10 at 11:30 A.M., and on October 8 at 5:30 P.M. the MSD Administration Building, located at 1081 Woodrow Street in Lower Price Hill.

The public comment period will close on October 26. If approved by both the Hamilton County Board of County Commissioners and Cincinnati City Council, the preferred alternative will be advanced to federal and state legislators by the end of this year.

Previous reading on BC:
MSD completes Lick Run plan (5/30/12)
Cincinnati economic development will 'actively support' Lick Run businesses (4/9/12)
Workshop attendees overwhelmingly support Lick Run daylighting (4/3/12)