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Central Ohio Group Issues

This article was submitted for the November / December 2003 issue of the newsletter.

Columbus Sewage Headworks = $100 Million Fiasco

By Pat Marida, COG Chair and Jeff Cox, COG ExCom member

COG’s ExCom has voted to oppose Columbus’ current proposal for a new $100 million Headworks for the Southerly Wastewater (sewage) Treatment Plant. The Headworks would be a “gathering and pumping” station, to be built on the west side of the Scioto River across the river from Southerly, and would collect and should pre-treat incoming sewage for Southerly. We have testified and written to Ohio EPA that it is premature to proceed at this time without first having a permit issued for the Southerly Plant. The Headworks project needs to be reworked to save public dollars and to allow for the creation of a truly efficient sewage treatment program.

This new Headworks project would not eliminate plant bypasses. It would pump up to 300 million gallons/day, but the plant can only process 172 mgd. Southerly cannot handle the flow it already has. The key to a proper Headworks lies in restricting solids, which requires new digesters. These must be the first item on the books, and digesters are not even being proposed--a glaring omission. Southerly needs a high treatment process with equalization tanks and digesters and very large primary tanks. The grit tanks being proposed are undersized and will plug in a storm.

The new Headworks allows for raw sewage to be pumped into the Scioto, whereas now it is being bypassed through gravity alone. The Sierra Club submits that this is the real reason the current Headworks have been proposed as submitted to Ohio EPA. Pumping will increase the amount of sewage that the plant bypasses. Adding an additional raw sewage bypass, as proposed in the Headworks plan, is not within the parameters of the Clean Water Act!

The Headworks should not be putting in the stub for the new Big Walnut Augmentation Rickenbacker Interceptor (BWARI) sewer, since this new addition will only increase the overflows and bypasses at the Southerly plant. There is currently no proposal for expanding treatment capacity at Southerly. Since Ohio EPA has placed no limit on adding new sewage into BWARI, the new BWARI sewer’s real purpose is to allow for expanded development. The Sierra Club believes that the main purpose of this Headworks proposal is to incorporate more sewage from the area the BWARI will serve. Columbus, in a Consent Decree reached with OEPA in May of 2002 to avoid a Sierra Club lawsuit, proposed that the BWARI would be built as a “storage tank” to remediate sewage overflows. But BWARI was on the books for expanding Columbus sewers long before the Consent Decree turned it into a “overflow prevention” project.

Desperately needed are alternatives for construction of this facility, remediation of any environmental damage caused by construction, and evaluation of alternatives to remediate more readily sewage bypasses, sanitary sewer overflows, and basement backups. Any new Headworks should be part of an overall plan to increase plant capacity at the Southerly plant.


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