Tuesday, October 29, 2002

Fairfield votes resounding `no' to sludge pit

But Water Works might sidestep decision

By Jennifer Edwards
The Cincinnati Enquirer

FAIRFIELD - After an overwhelming public outcry, City Council without comment unanimously rejected a proposal late Monday for a 9-acre sludge pit behind some of the most expensive homes here.

The city's law director told Greater Cincinnati Water Works officials the proposed pit was not compatible with the property's zoning, according to Fairfield's 1992 Land Use Plan, which is part of the city's Master Plan.

The move means Greater Cincinnati Water Works officials may have to locate their pit for lime residue somewhere other than their property along River Road, where the Bolton Water Treatment Plant has operated since the 1970s.

"If the proposed sludge pit's location would be Hyde Park, there would be no discussion - it would not occur," Mayor Erick Cook said.

The debate, however, is not over. Water Works officials have applied to Fairfield for a cut-and-fill permit to build the pit, which would be a way to construct it on the property without council's approval to build a sanitary landfill.

Although they have maintained they did not foresee a lawsuit over the pit, Water Works officials conceded Monday that now is one option.

"We're obviously disappointed, but we're not sure this is headed for court yet," said Paul Tomes, Water Works chief engineer.

Mr. Tomes and a Water Works attorney said they don't think they need council approval for a sanitary landfill ordinance to build the pit, as the city administration has advised them to pursue.

The Water Works needs to build a new pit because the existing one, on private land in Fairfield Township, is nearing capacity. The municipal water and sewage agency serves most of Hamilton County and portions of Butler, Clermont and Warren counties.

More than 50 residents who oppose the pit attended Monday night's council hearing. Neighbors had promised to launch a referendum to overturn any council approval of the pit.

Residents in the Monastery and Riverside Estates subdivisions object because they fear the pit would decrease property values of their 250 to 300 homes, which average $300,000 in sale price. They also are concerned about blight and noise.

"I am not intimidated by the threat of litigation. The courts are not just there for Greater Cincinnati Water Works," said Gregory Sunday, vice president of the Monastery Homeowners Association. "It will take a mandate from the Supreme Court of the United States before one ounce of this stuff is dumped in our city."

Water Works officials had argued the pit did not contain hazardous material and would not devalue homes. They also pointed out the lime landfill would not be visible from homes or the road.

In September, the Fairfield Planning Commission approved the pit - with 16 conditions - after the issue was hashed out over the summer in several public meeting.

One of the key conditions was the Water Works agreeing to a 1,000-foot-wide, densely wooded area between the pit and the nearest home.

E-mail jedwards@enquirer.com.

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