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Central Ohio Group Issues

This article was submitted for the January / February 2003  issue of the newsletter.

Sierra Club Continues Legal Actions to End Sewage Dumping

By

The Sierra Club’s fight to stop Columbus from illegally dumping raw sewage and industrial waste into local rivers and basements is currently being waged on two legal fronts.

First, the Club is asking for “intervention” in the Consent Decree between Ohio EPA and Columbus. This decree is the “enforcement agreement” worked out between OEPA and the violator, Columbus. After 30 years of not enforcing the law, OEPA met with Columbus only after the Club’s first 60-Day Notice of Intent to Sue was sent to the city. In a two-month period, between the time the Club’s Notice was sent and a suit could be filed under the Clean Water Act, OEPA worked out a plan (Consent Decree) that it claims will fix 30 years of Columbus’ sewer infrastructure attrition. The real purpose of the Decree was to put something on paper that could be called enforcement. Having enforcement would prevent the Club from filing suit. So the Decree, or “remedy” is on the books. But without citizen oversight, the Decree could actually mean little more than business-as-usual. Intervention means that the Club wants the right to participate in meetings and be kept abreast of what is happening, to see if the terms of the Decree are being followed. Judge Crawford of the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas closed the Decree without allowing the court or anyone else any continuing oversight. The Club is appealing this decision in the 10th District Court of Appeals.

After the Consent Decree was filed, the Club immediately sent two more 60-Day Notices for other sewer violations. OEPA, under what we believe was pressure from US EPA, did not negotiate with Columbus. Now those cases are filed in federal court. Columbus, an entity whose politicians and bureaucrats are not familiar with working with the public, is adopting a “scorched earth” no-compromise policy and attempting to get the cases dismissed as a grasping-at-straws strategy. Columbus is clearly in violation of the law, so the merits of the suits are not in question. This is where we currently stand.

Columbus and Ohio EPA are being hit from several sides by citizen activism. In this newsletter Jeff Cox writes about the petition to take away enforcement authority from OEPA. This has OEPA softened enough to make some stabs at enforcement. OEPA has just given Columbus a 5:1 sewage reduction notice. This means that Columbus will have to remove 5 gallons (of water leaking into sanitary sewers) for each new gallon of sewage they plan to add. If enforced, this is a major victory for the Club and the environment. It will not only lessen sewage overflows but will also put some brakes on sprawl.

Paul Dumouchelle writes in another article about Columbus adopting the PEER initiative petition to halt sewer expansion in the Darby for 2 years. This will allow the city to do some planning for development in that sensitive and pristine area. Action plans of local watershed organizations, such as the Alum Creek Action Plan notice in this newsletter, are strongly advocating cleanup of sewage overflows into their creeks.

Index to articles on the Columbus sewers issue.

the Club is asking for “intervention” in the Consent Decree between Ohio EPA and Columbus.
Columbus is clearly in violation of the law, so the merits of the suits are not in question.

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