CLEVELAND — The Department of Justice's Environment and Natural Resources Division has announced that the city of Elyria has agreed to spend $250 million for "a series of capital projects designed to eliminate discharges of untreated sewage from its sewer system into the Black River."
Elyria will also pay a civil penalty of $100,000 to the U.S. government and another $100,000 to Ohio's Surface Water Improvement Fund.
The Justice Department's complaint states that Elyria's sanitary sewers overflowed on more than 1,100 occasions since 2011, resulting in discharges of untreated sewage into the Black River or a tributary to the river. In addition, the complaint alleges that Elyria failed to comply with a previous court order to stop these illegal discharges.
The news comes just a week after the city of Lakewood reached a similar agreement on a consent decree with the Justice Department to reduce sewage discharge into Lake Erie and the Rocky River. Lakewood agreed to spend $85 million as part of the decree.
In a release, the Justice Department says the projects that Elyria has agreed to implement "will significantly increase the amount of wastewater that receives treatment and prevent overflows from sanitary and combined sewer outfalls when the system becomes overloaded." They add that when the projects are completed, the water quality of the Black River "will be greatly improved."
“The Clean Water Act requires adequate infrastructure to limit discharges of untreated sewage,” said Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division in a statement. “These settlements require meaningful investments that will improve the health of the Black River and Lake Erie.”
Under the terms of the proposed consent decree, Elyria's various sewer projects will be completed by Dec. 31, 2044. However, the Justice Department states that "the most environmentally-significant of these projects will be completed within the first 15 years." Among the significant projects will be the completion of the city’s East Side Relief Sewer, increasing capacity at Elyria’s wastewater treatment plant, adding processes to mitigate the harm from any bypasses around the wastewater treatment plant, and 12 other projects that will control waste overflows or the flow of non-wastewater into the sewer system.
Elyria will be required to submit semi-annual progress reports to the United States and the state of Ohio until all work has been completed.
Elyria city officials released the following statement Thursday:
The City of Elyria is dedicated to enhancing the quality of life for all residents while protecting our precious natural resources, including the Black River. The City’s Engineering and Wastewater Departments have worked hard to comply with the Environmental Protection Agency’s evolving rules.
The Consent Decree agreed upon between the City of Elyria and the EPA formalizes our ongoing plan to complete improvements to the sewer system and pollution control plant. The negotiation for this agreement has been developing for the past several years while simultaneously the City of Elyria has been investing in its water and sewer infrastructure. This new decree solidifies our plan for further improvement and will continue addressing a century-old sewer system.
We appreciate the flexibility built into the Consent Decree as it allows the City an extended period of time to continue the improvements already planned. This ensures the cost of the repairs are spread out, greatly reducing the cost impact. We estimate a total cost of $250 million for the projects memorialized in the Consent Decree, of which $50 million has already been spent on completed projects as part of the overall plan. The remaining work will be completed between now and 2044.
Many cities across the region, particularly those like ours with aging sewer systems, are entering into similar agreements with the EPA. We believe this Consent Decree aligns with our goal of creating a sustainable, affordable, and clean environment for our community for decades to come. Within the framework of this agreement, we welcome the opportunity to work with the agencies to realize that goal.