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Central Ohio Group Issues

This is a special news bulletin of May 30, 2002.

Sierra Club Announces Intent to Sue Over Violations of Clean Water Act by City of Columbus

Two New 60-Day Notice Letters Include Issues not Covered by Recent Settlement

NEWS RELEASE

Sierra Club, 36 West Gay Street Suite 314, Columbus OH 43215
TEL: (614) 461-0734, FAX: (614) 461-0730
www.ohio.sierraclub.org

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

MAY 30, 2002

CONTACT:

MARC CONTE (614) 461-0734

COLUMBUS - Today, the Sierra Club announced its intentions to sue the City of Columbus over violations of the Clean Water Act. The two intent-to-sue letters, required under federal law before lawsuits can be filed, deal with Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) violations and storm water permit violations. These issues are not covered by the recent settlement between the City of Columbus and Ohio EPA.

Today, the Sierra Club is notifying the City of Columbus of its intent to sue regarding the city’s Municipal Separate Storm Sewer Systems (MS4s). Columbus is violating its National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits by having illegal cross-connections of sewage pipes directly into stormwater pipes, which flow untreated into area rivers and streams. These cross-connections were intentionally installed by the City and are a direct violation of its NPDES and Storm Water Permits.

On May 22, the Sierra Club notified the City of Columbus of its intent to sue over CSO violations. CSOs are overflows where sewage combines with stormwater. Columbus CSOs violate its NPDES permits under the Clean Water Act.

Last Friday, in response to a threatened lawsuit by the Sierra Club, Columbus and the OEPA entered into a consent decree that requires the spending of $497 million to correct illegal sewage overflows into homes and rivers. These overflows can result in direct contact with pathogenic bacteria and viruses, thereby posing a significant public health risk to area residents. This consent decree will not completely eliminate Columbus’ violations of the Clean Water Act and does not provide a fixed date to end the violations of law.

The Sierra Club filed its Notice of Intent to Sue on March 28, 2002. In order to “beat” the Sierra Club to the federal courthouse, the City rejected the Club’s formal request for a negotiated settlement. The City negotiated with the Ohio EPA behind closed doors.

“After 30 years of illegal sanitary sewer overflows (SSOs), Columbus has, in just 2 months, come up with a plan to spend half a billion dollars in public funds with no input from the public,” said Jeff Cox, Sierra Club member and former sewer inspector for the City of Columbus. “Where is the ‘public’ in Public Utility?”

“Columbus City Council voted 6-0 on May 20 in favor of the Consent Decree, even though it had not been finalized at the time and they did not see the consent decree,” said Patricia Marida, chair of the Central Ohio Sierra Club. “You would think that at least one council person would have stood up and asked why the Department of Sewers and Drains is in violation of the law such that it has to be taken to court by the OEPA.”

The Columbus consent decree allows business as usual, with no limitation on new sewers or new connections to sewers that are currently in violation of the law due to overloaded conditions.

“Adding new sewers to a system that is already over capacity is what has been fueling the illegal overflows,”

said Marida. “Ratepayer dollars should be going to fix sewers, not to extend them. We don’t want unplanned sprawl, we want to ‘Fix Sewers First’.”

Many Columbus area residents, such as Ramona and Carroll Brown and their neighbors, have been living with repeated sewage backups in their basements for many years. “The city always tells me that the backups are not their fault,” said Ramona. “During last backup I could not get Sewers and Drains to respond, and I had to call the Mayor’s Action Line. The city then told me to sue them if I wanted to collect damages.”

Others, such as Tom Porch, enjoy fishing and recreational uses of Columbus’s rivers and streams. “I developed a skin infection on my legs from fishing in the Olentangy,” said Porch. “It required medical treatment.”


The Sierra Club is the nation’s oldest conservation organization with 700,000 members nationwide. The Ohio Chapter has 18,000 members and the Central Ohio Group has over 4000 members.

Index to articles on the Columbus sewers issue.

“After 30 years of illegal sanitary sewer overflows (SSOs), Columbus has, in just 2 months, come up with a plan to spend half a billion dollars in public funds with no input from the public,”
“You would think that at least one council person would have stood up and asked why the Department of Sewers and Drains is in violation of the law such that it has to be taken to court by the OEPA.”

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