Pub­lic com­ments could af­fect sewage agree­ment

The Columbus Dispatch - - Front Page - By Beth Burger

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

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