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U.S. EPA approves first green projects to keep stormwater out of Akron’s overflowing sewers

Dec 15, 2015

By Bob Downing
Beacon Journal staff writer

Last Updated: December 15, 2015 - 08:29 PM

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The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has approved three green or environmentally friendly sewer projects in Akron.

Mayor Jeff Fusco called the EPA action “a major step forward in our efforts.”

The city has been in “active negotiations” with the EPA for months on the three projects that will together cost $46 million, a savings of $12.3 million from concrete projects that had been planned, he said.

The federal action marks the first EPA approval of Akron’s green sewer initiatives.

Fusco added, “I want to express my appreciation to the EPA and to the dedicated city employees and our consultants who have been working on this request for more than a year,” he said in a statement issued Monday.

The approval will allow Akron to proceed to separate stormwater from sanitary sewers in areas along Merriman Road in northwest Akron, the Middlebury area of East Akron and the North Hill neighborhood.

Keeping stormwater out of the sewer system will reduce the scope of Akron’s overflowing sewers.

The plans call for man-made wetlands, bump-outs and bump-ins in curbs, green streets, separated sewers and other environmentally friendly improvements.

That would include building small patches of water-absorbent greenery behind curb extensions on select streets. Such “bump-outs” or mini-gardens behind curbs would be built in the street at the expense of parking spaces or part of a traffic lane. They use special gravels and soils and would be planted with water-loving vegetation. They would slow the water runoff.

Bump-ins would turn devil strips on select streets into mini-basins that would fill with stormwater after heavy rains. That water would then drain naturally into the ground.

Work on the Merriman project could begin next summer.

In a related development, negotiations between Akron and the EPA on whether Akron will be allowed to adopt what’s called an integrated plan to limit sewer overflows and reduce Akron’s costs are continuing, city officials said.

It will likely be next summer before the city gets final word from the EPA, said Akron Service Director John Moore.

That plan could save the city as much as $300 million on its $1.14 billion sewer project and could reduce future sewer rate hikes for sewer customers, Fusco said.

Even with the plan, Akron’s 300,000 sewer customers — who have already seen their sewer bills grow — will be paying more, starting in 2021. If the plan is rejected, the sewer bills are expected to grow by 49 percent by 2040, officials have said.

For a typical Akron family who uses 500 cubic feet of water per month, the sewer portion of their bill would increase from $57.05 in 2021 to $83.16 per month in 2040.

Each year, the sewer bills would increase by $1 to $2 per month.

The plan was submitted to the EPA last August and calls for reducing the number of storage basins from 10 to five and would increase separations from five to 13 while adding green infrastructure. A second underground storage tunnel in North Hill would be eliminated.

Work is getting underway on the first tunnel, the Ohio Canal Interceptor Tunnel, near downtown Akron.

Akron is also seeking federal approval to extend the deadline for the sewer improvements from 2027 to 2040, a move that would help make the project more affordable.

Bob Downing can be reached at 330-996-3745 or[email protected].

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