Tuesday, July 23, 2002

Jefferson Co. to raise taxes to overhaul sewers

By The Associated Press

        LOUISVILLE - More tax increases are ahead for Jefferson County residents to help pay for a plan to revamp a sewer system often overwhelmed by heavy rains.

        County residents will be hit with a 6.5 percent sewer bill increase effective Aug. 1 and can expect similar rate increases in coming years.

        The Metropolitan Sewer District has a $200 million plan to reduce the number of incidents when rains cause raw sewage and storm water to spill into streams and the Ohio River in Jefferson County.

        MSD officials and environmental regulators say the overflows have played a significant role in making Jefferson County's creeks unsafe for swimming, largely due to the presence of fecal coliform.

        The tax increase represents about $1 more a month for homeowners - a reasonable concession to better water quality, said Bud Schardein, acting MSD executive director.

        “We're a river community,” Mr. Schardein said.

        “We have a number of major creeks and streams in this county. We have a responsibility to keep them as clean as possible.”

        In Jefferson County, the 114 locations where combined sewage and storm water lines can overflow are responsible for dumping an estimated 4.5 billion gallons of storm water and untreated sewage into creeks and the Ohio River during storms.

        Citing concerns about levels of fecal coliform from sewers, Kentucky health and environmental officials recommended that people avoid swimming in all state rivers in and downstream from urban areas - especially after a rainfall.

        That includes the Ohio River at Louisville, said Mark York, spokesman for the state Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Cabinet.

        In Jefferson County, 31 square miles are served by a combined sewer and storm drain system.

        The combined sewer lines are an engineering legacy dating to the 1800s, when many older cities began installing underground pipes to prevent streets from flooding. When indoor plumbing arrived in 1860, homes and businesses began connecting wastewater lines to the storm drains.

        The waste and storm water went directly into the Ohio River until the mid-1950s, when the city was ordered to build what would become the Morris Forman Wastewater Treatment Plant.

        But the sewage collection and treatment system is not designed to handle all of the waste and water that flows into it, and there are overflows at many of the discharge points, 115 times a year on average.

        Northern Kentucky cities have just learned about their 31-city regional draft plan, prepared by Sanitation District No. 1 to bring the area into compliance with Clean Water Act requirements by March 2003.

        If Northern Kentucky cities don't comply by the deadline, they could each be fined $27,500 a day.


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