Sunday, September 14, 2003

No longer out of sight

Sewers: Time to fix

It will take billions of dollars and decades to rebuild Hamilton County's 100-year-old sewer system. But as an estimated 10,000 homeowners whose basements flood whenever it rains can attest, we can't wait that long.

Details of a massive overhaul will be included in a consent decree now being negotiated in a federal suit filed by the Sierra Club over failure to meet environmental standards. It's estimated the total project will take 20 years and cost up to $3.6 billion.

For years this community has taken an out-of-sight, out-of-mind approach to the pipes below the streets. The combined sanitary and storm sewers that make up about 30 percent of the county's 3,000 miles of sewer lines often back up into basements when it rains, creating an expensive and unhealthy mess for homeowners.

Those homeowners need relief now, not 20 years from now when the overhaul is complete. Two of the county's three commissioners, Todd Portune and Phil Heimlich, indicated this past week they are ready to dump the 50/50 policy under which local jurisdictions and the county have shared the cost of updating these lines. This has put an unfair burden on older communities where most of the combined lines are located. Commissioner John Dowlin continues to favor the old policy. The issue will be discussed at a meeting Monday and a vote is likely on Sept. 24.

While we favor the county accepting full responsibility for the county-owned sewer system, the reality is that rates will have to go up to pay for these repairs. There may be some short-term, cheaper fixes using new technologies that can help. Metropolitan Sewer District (MSD) Director Pat Karney has told commissioners about new pumping units that can be installed in homes to divert sewer backups. Putting such units in the flooding homes would cost about $35 million, could be done within five years and would increase sewage rates by 4 percent.

We urge the commissioners to act quickly to implement these repairs. The homeowners who have smelly, unsanitary sewage seeping into their basements are waiting.

Hearing set

The Hamilton County commissioners and the Metropolitan Sewer District meet 9:30 a.m. Monday to discuss cost sharing on sewer repairs and a new technology that might provide a cheaper solution to basement flooding problems. The commissioners meet on the sixth floor of 138 E. Court St., downtown.

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