City officials are hoping that a $25,000 investment will turn into millions of dollars in savings for Ottumwa.
The city council voted last week to join in a statewide lawsuit, the Iowa League of Cities vs. the Environmental Protection Agency in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the eighth circuit.
The city’s resolution indicates that Ottumwa would pay no more than $25,000 to go toward the total $250,000 in legal fees for the suit. Hall & Associates out of Washington, D.C., will represent the ILC. The resolution is contingent upon at least nine other cities approving the same level of support.
“There are continuous regulations of various things to clean up pollution,” said City Administrator Joe Helfenberger. “We’re asking it be reasonable and cost effective, and it be effective.”
Helfenberger said at least 14 cities around the size of Ottumwa or larger have joined in the suit or are still considering. He said several other smaller Iowa towns also are considering joining.
Including sewer separation and updates to the sewer plant, Ottumwa will spend about $30 million by next year, Helfenberger said.
The overall goal of the lawsuit is to overturn the EPA’s rule changes, which could save the cities hundreds of millions of dollars.
The EPA has put cities in a situation where they will have ongoing violations with no reasonable means to achieve compliance, according to information provided to the city by the Iowa League of Cities.
On Nov. 13, 2009, Ottumwa Mayor Dale Uehling sent a letter addressed to U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley’s office asking for help in getting a meeting set up with EPA assistant administrator Peter Silva. Ottumwa officials, along with leaders in Clinton and Keokuk, also asked the EPA for answers to four questions in the letter. The mayors had previously met with regional EPA officials and came out with more questions.
“At this meeting, EPA Region VII stated that regardless of the outcome of UAAs [Use Attainability Analyses], our municipalities would be required to spend as much as we could afford to eliminate CSOs even if we are already meeting the CSO Nine Minimum Controls and are in compliance with applicable water quality standards,” the letter states.
“Based on EPA’s prior correspondence to your office, we are unaware of any section of the Clean Water Act that would mandate such a result, particularly for small and financially disadvantaged cities such as ourselves.”
In a response letter, the EPA stressed that it’s important for cities with CSO problems to follow the 1994 CSO policy and the Clean Water Act guidelines.
“CSOs may contribute to beach closures, shellfish bed closures, contamination of drinking water supplies and other environmental and health concerns,” Silva wrote in a 2009 response to Grassley.
The Des Moines River at Ottumwa is classified as a swimming area, though a no swimming ordinance has been in place for years, Helfenberger said.
Since the EPA still classifies Ottumwa as a swimming area, the city has to meet more specific water pollution standards that are costly.
According to the petition for review, filed July 26, 2010, the ILC wants to overturn the EPA’s final rules, regulatory determinations and reviewable final actions involving the Agency’s:
• Revised interpretation of its “bypass” regulation.
• Revised interpretation of its “secondary treatment” rule.
• Decisions regarding expansion of the scope and imposition of additional prohibitions under its “operation and maintenance” rule.
• New mandates regarding the design of treatment plants and the performance of collections systems.
• New permitting restrictions on allowable effluent concentrations for E. coli.