City stalls over fine for dumping raw sewage

Peoria city officials are attempting to negotiate a civil penalty imposed by the U.S. Department of Justice for failure to adequately redress the combined sewer overflow problem that results in raw sewage flushing into the Illinois River.

This has been an ongoing environmental and public health debacle for decades but has escalated in recent years with increasing amounts impermeable surface areas due to development and with increased frequency of heavy rains due to climate change.

The Justice Department stated in a June 29 letter that the government has already made “an extremely significant move from our initial penalty demand to our $850,000 offer.” The letter also states, “We have yet to see a move of corresponding significance from the City for the cash portion of the civil penalty.” However, the letter goes on to indicate the government is willing to further revise the penalty to $790,000 but questions the city’s suggestion of a compensating environmental project.

The city attempted to negotiate the settlement to $120,000 plus a commitment to create an “eco park” at the foot of Spring Street.

That property at the foot of Spring Street was being proposed by the city in order to meet federal requirements for converting public parkland, Riverfront Park, to luxury condominiums. Despite widespread opposition, the city proceeded with that plan until it became increasingly unfeasible. The city failed to budget money for the property swap. Acquisition of the Spring Street property was dropped from a recent city council agenda.

Former city councilwoman Marcella Teplitz said, “The city appears to be shuffling deck chairs on the Titanic and not coming clean with the citizens of Peoria. This is a real problem that has to be addressed. City Hall does a disservice by obfuscating this problem.”

City manager Patrick Urich did not return a phone call.

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