EPA orders Peoria to pay almost $800,000

After decades of discussion, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is imposing a fine on Peoria for failure to resolve its combined sewer overflow problem. The EPA has still not approved Peoria’s so-called “green solution” and is ordering the city to pay a fine of almost $800,000.

At-large city councilwoman Beth Jensen said she favors a 100 percent green solution to the combined sewer overflow problem because it will deal with both the environmental hazard and help to create local jobs, but compromise with the EPA should be pursued expeditiously.

She is concerned some people in the city will not compromise, and the case will end up in court.

Jensen does not favor the earlier “gray” solution once advocated by the city. That plan would have involved design and construction of a sewage system by a German engineering company that required German workers for the installation.

One stumbling block with the EPA is duration of the implementation period for the city’s green solution. The EPA wanted less than 5 years; the city was pushing for a 20-year window in order to spread out the costs over more years.

Peoria’s combined sewer overflow problem results in raw sewage pouring into the Illinois River during heavy rainfalls.

The storm water utility tax currently being imposed on all property owners is based on evaluations of the impermeable surface area on each parcel. That fee is calculated based on square footage of roofs, driveways, patios, parking lots and any other impermeable surfaces.

That tax was originally discussed as part of the CSO problem but without an approved plan with the EPA, those tax revenues are going to existing storm water construction projects.

Andrea Klopfenstein, project engineer with the city, said initial storm water utility bills were mailed out in July and subsequent bills will go out in August and September. Property owners who want to correct a problem with their bill have until Sept. 1 to file an appeal that could result in a retroactive correction to June 1. After Sept. 1 appeals can still be filed but any correction would not be retroactive.

There is no fee to file an appeal, Klopfenstein said.

“We’ve gotten a lot of appeals. A ton of appeals. So it is taking a while to process all those,” she said.

The $1.5 million Michael Bloomberg innovation grant originally awarded to Peoria in 2014 was to include design and implementation of the green solution. However, without approval by the EPA, the grant, which expires the end of this year, has been used on other projects like Well Farm and the “parklet” on Main Street in from of Las Delicias ice cream shop.

While those projects enhance the community, they are not the major green solution for the CSO problem.

The city could end up in court over the EPA fine.

Clare Howard

Clare Howard is the editor of the Community Word. She can be reached at communityword@yahoo.com

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