Public comments could affect sewage agreement
Raw sewage seeping into the Olentangy River, flooding into residents’ homes and flowing into stormwater drains are among the concerns the public has expressed about Franklin County’s municipal stormsewer system.
Residents who are affected by the storm-sewer system have until 5 p.m. on Dec. 10 to submit their comments to the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency.
The state environmental agency will review those comments and possibly make changes to an already signed-off consent decree agreement with Franklin County.
It’s unclear how likely it would be for the Ohio EPA to make changes based on any submitted comments.
“After the public comment period is over, we will review the comments and decide if changes are needed to the consent decree. The judge can either sign the consent decree or hold a hearing to discuss further,” said James Lee, a spokesman for the Ohio EPA, wrote in an email to The Dispatch.
A spokesman with Attorney General Mike DeWine’s office, which is providing legal counsel for the Ohio EPA, said: “We’ll review (the comments) and see what additional steps need to be taken.”
County officials did not respond to a request for comment Friday afternoon.
Franklin County Common Pleas Court Judge Colleen O’Donnell is overseeing the case.
David Altman, an attorney with Altman Newman, a Cincinnati-based environmental law firm, is representing one of the residents affected by the sewage issues. Jeffery Cox, who lives about 1,800 feet from the Olentangy River in Sharon Township, filed a citizen’s lawsuit against the county in common pleas court over sewage runoff into the river using a provision in the federal Clean Water Act. The state filed a lawsuit against the county less than two months later, records show.
The consent decree the Ohio EPA signed with the county has some significant shortcomings, Altman said.
For example, the consent order requires the county to submit plans to the state on ways to stop the pollution within six months. But there is no deadline for action to actually stop pollution that has been ongoing for years, he said.
The decree also doesn’t prevent Cox from filing a federal lawsuit if stronger action is not taken, Altman said.
The sewage, which includes high levels of E. coli, fecal coliform and fecal streptococci, is entering the Olentangy River, according to the lawsuit.
It cites “thousands of illicit connections” that are discharging pollutants from failing home treatment systems and entering the river. If people come into contact with the sewage, they could become ill with intestinal diseases, hepatitis A and infections of the eyes, ears, throat and skin.
“The deadlines don’t require the fixes of the pollution” to be made within six months, Altman said.
As of Friday, a copy of the consent decree still was not filed with the court, making it difficult for the public to view the document. The Dispatch has attached a copy of the