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Could This Plan End The Dysfunction At The Metropolitan Sewer District?

Tana Weingartner
Hamilton County commissioners Denise Driehaus and Todd Portune talk about the county's proposal to restructure the Metropolitan Sewer District.

Updated at 2:30 p.m. with comment from the city.

Hamilton County commissioners say they have a plan to end the dysfunction at the Metropolitan Sewer District (MSD).

The county and city have been at odds and in court over ownership and operations.

County Commission President Denise Driehaus says the proposal would transfer MSD's executive staff, approximately 20 people, under county control while leaving some 600 sewer district employees under the city.

"On the city's side, remember one of their highest priorities was making sure that the employees remained in the retirement system and remained city employees," Driehaus says. "This plan addresses that."

Commissioner Todd Portune, who fought forfederal legislation to provide more options to address the $3 billion federally-mandated sewer overhaul underway in Hamilton County, saysnew, greener options now available to the county could save big dollars. The county wants more control over directing MSD's leadership to use these newer methods, such as diverting water from the system rather than building bigger pipes to capture more.

"The net effect of this is it's going to save ratepayers as much as a billion dollars in costs of our Consent Decree obligations over the next 10 to 15 years," Portune suggests.

"We don't want to capture more and more effluent that's going to have the effect of having to treat more and more and more, so we save money on the front end because what we're now allowed to do is cheaper to build and it's quicker to build, and we save money on the back end because we're treating less."

County leaders say the plan shouldn't be a surprise as the city and county have been discussing in during court negotiations.

In a statement, Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley attacks the plan:

"Our employees and leadership at MSD provide professional service to our customers every day based on decades of experience operating the sewer district. The county's proposal to effectively lay off hundreds of city workers is cruel and we will fight it. The reality is that the county’s own handpicked consultant identified the county's high-priced monitors and consultants as the primary obstacle to efficient operation of the sewer system. The county should get out of our way so we can effectively manage and operate the system, save critical assets, and immediately address public health concerns as we have asked them to do for months."

The county disputes the idea that any employees would be laid off. "Our motion does not say that," says spokeswoman Bridget Doherty. "Not sure where that is coming from."

The county's plan is filed under an ongoing court case before federal court Judge Michael Barrett. It will be up to him to decide if the proposal will go forward.

Commissioners Driehaus and Portune unveiled the county's proposal using Catalina Harbour in Addyston as a backdrop. Residents in Addyston and neighboring Saylor Park say they're fed up with perpetual sewer system overflows affecting their communities and they want the problems fixed.

Senior Editor and reporter at WVXU with more than 20 years experience in public radio; formerly news and public affairs producer with WMUB. Would really like to meet your dog.