Athens City, County Consider Draft Agreement For Route 50 Sewer Expansion

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Athens city and county officials appear close to reaching an agreement outlining the conditions under which the city would treat sewage from a proposed sanitary sewer expansion out Route 50W. A draft agreement has been presented by the city to the Athens County Commissioners for review and also is on the agenda of Monday’s meeting of City Council’s Planning and Development Committee, according to City Service-Safety Director Paula Horan Moseley.

County Commission President Lenny Eliason has been negotiating the agreement with city officials. A county project to provide sanitary sewers to the subdivisions southwest of Athens has been in discussion since the mid-1990s, when the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency raised concerns about pollution from individual septic systems. In January, the county commissioners accepted a state loan of up to $1.4 million for planning the project, and last week voted to apply for construction funding from the Ohio Water Pollution Control Loan Fund.

At this point, the commissioners have not made a final decision to proceed to the project, but Eliason said a vote to accept the construction funding in late 2014 would mean the project is going to happen. The anticipated funding request is just over $25.6 million, and the county is asking that part of that be a grant.

“We’re asking for as much (of a grant) as we can get,” Eliason said. “They typically don’t go for more than half.”

The commissioners have said that for the project to happen, it will need to be affordable for the residents being served — affordable in terms of the assessments that will pay off the construction debt, and in terms of monthly sewer bills. The treatment agreement with the city is a factor in determining the affordability.

The draft calls for the county to pay a treatment capacity fee of $3,000 “per equivalent family home.” Eliason said the total is estimated at $3.9 million, which would be rolled into the construction debt for the project.

Eliason said the fee would pay the city for using up part of its treatment capacity. Athens Public Works Director Andy Stone said the county would be “buying into” a treatment system that has been paid for by city residents over the years.

In addition to the one-time capacity fee, the county would pay the city for treatment of the sewage.

The draft agreement calls for master meters at three access points to the city sanitary sewer system, with the county paying the city according to the amount of sewage going through the meters.

However, the city has different rates for residential, commercial and industrial customers. Under the draft agreement, the city would test the strength of the sewage to determine each month whether the county should be billed the residential, commercial or industrial rate for sewage going through each particular meter.

Mayor Paul Wiehl said part of the reason for including that provision is to address the city’s concern that the area to be served does not have zoning.

Stone said that based on what’s in the area now, he doesn’t anticipate the county being charged anything above the residential rate.

The draft calls for the county to pay 100 percent of the city’s sewer rate. There is no surcharge for service being provided outside the city, and Wiehl said that’s because the county will be responsible for maintaining the sewer lines and pump stations outside the city.

The monthly sewer bills that would ultimately be charged to residents would be the amount needed to pay the city for treatment, plus the amount needed for the county to maintain the new system, Eliason said.

There is no firm figure yet.

Eliason said there remain some issues to work out with the city, but he anticipates there will be a final version of the agreement by the end of this month or early October.

“We’re pretty close,” he said, adding that finalizing the agreement will allow design of the project to move forward.