Officials in Bellaire, Bridgeport and Martins Ferry had to have known the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency would come knocking on their sewage treatment plant door eventually. Now, the knock has come.
For many years, state and federal environmental protection agencies have been demanding communities do something about storm water flowing into sewage treatment plants. That is a problem in most towns and cities, where storm and sanitary sewer systems often were linked when they were constructed generations ago.
Most of the time, that is no problem. But during heavy rainstorms, water from storm sewers can, in effect, overwhelm the systems and wash raw sewage into nearby streams.
Separating the two systems often is a complex, costly process for communities and, sometimes, homeowners who are informed after smoke testing that they have to remove their downspouts from sanitary sewer lines.
Again, East Ohio public officials are well aware of the nationwide campaign to rectify the problem. Now, OEPA official Jennifer Witte is making the rounds of local communities to inform them it is their turn.
Witte visited Bellaire Village Council last week to inform officials the community, along with others that send sewage to the East Ohio Regional Wastewater Authority treatment plant just north of Bellaire, are on the OEPA's agenda.
Something needs to be done about the storm water problem, Witte told council members. If Bellaire and other communities fail to take OEPA-approved action, they could be ordered to pay stiff fines.
Witte told council members she understands the process may be an expensive one, but the village needs to undertake it. Help in the form of low- or no-interest loans and grants may be available, she added.
Still, it is likely sewage treatment charges for local residents and businesses will be going up. They need to understand leaders in their communities have no choice.
Bellaire and other local towns affected by the OEPA mandate should, possibly working together, devise an action plan as soon as possible, for two reasons. First, construction costs will increase, making work more expensive the longer it is delayed. Second, low interest rates available currently could hold down the cost somewhat.
Finally, the OEPA will wait only so long before taking enforcement action.