The Hamilton County Commissioners approved a $9.9 million project to replace a failing Metropolitan Sewer District (MSD) pipe in Green Township.
At the same time, the commission also passed a resolution asking MSD to create a contingency plan in case replacing the Upper Muddy Creek interceptor with a large pipe creates overflows downstream from the replacement project in the future.
An MSD statement suggests the Muddy Creek project could be advertised for construction bids by mid-summer, and a contract for the work could be awarded by the end of August. Construction could begin this fall, and the project could be substantially complete by August 2021.
MSD Director Diana Christy told commissioners this is not the first or the last project that needs to be done in the Muddy Creek basin.
"There are other issues that continue to need to be addressed as required under the WWIP (wet weather improvement plan)," Christy said. "I think we have a lot more work to do together and hopefully this is the start of that so we can proceed with the rest of that expeditiously."
The WWIP is part of a federal court consent decree with federal and state environmental regulators to reduce sewer overflows into local streams and waterways during heavy rain events.
County Commission President Denise Driehaus said hopefully the process will look a lot different than this Muddy Creek project did.
"Because this one went way to long," Driehaus said.
Council Member Greg Landsman has made fixing Muddy Creek a priority for the last several months. He calls it an "environmental catastrophe" and agreed it took too long.
"Hopefully we built trust and new ways of working together so these kinds of delays don't continue," Landsman said in a text. "Children and families need us to remove and replace the degraded pipe that has been leaking sewage into their creek for years, and it's now going to happen."
One of those next projects involves Stonebridge Lake, a condominium complex in Green Township, which is dealing with sewer overflow issues.
The county is asking for a fact sheet on the issue in two weeks, and a project plan by August to address "stormwater infiltration" in that area. The county's resolution said there are overflows at 22 manholes, surface flooding, and sewer backups upstream from that area.
How We Got Here
The city and county had been arguing about whether the Muddy Creek pipe needed to be replaced or could instead be repaired; the size of the replacement pipe; and whether fixing the upper portion of the interceptor would cause overflow and flooding issues downstream in Muddy Creek and in Sayler Park.
The last part of downstream overflows was the final hurdle to be cleared in recent weeks.
City modeling from 2018 suggested there could be some overflows at four manholes during a wet weather event. But now the city has updated modeling that shows those overflows can be eliminated. MSD said that is possible because of other improvements in the sewer system including diverting flows to other parts of the system that can handle it in wet weather.
The county's MSD monitoring team, and hired outside consultants, had been questioning how that was possible.
The county is accepting MSD's modeling. But Assistant County Administrator Holly Christmann said Tuesday the resolution approving the project will have some "protection and comfort" built in.
"It does rely on our operators' (the city) assurances, it does rely on their professional judgement, and their modeling which we have historically had concerns with," Christmann said. "However, we do put in there, as I had mentioned, the requirement that MSD have a contingency plan if things change with the modeling or during the construction of the project."
The project to fix the Upper Muddy Creek interceptor was a required project under the consent decree. The work was supposed to have been completed by Dec. 31, 2019. It hasn't happened yet, but the city and county could face fines for missing that deadline.
The Muddy Creek issue is one of many contentious issues involving MSD. The county owns the sewer district, and the commissioners set the budget for the agency. The city operates the utility and claims ownership of the assets that is brought to the district when it was established in 1968.
That 50-year agreement expired in 2018, but a federal judge has ordered it remain in place until a replacement arrangement is agreed to. But so far that has not happened, and both sides have continued arguing.
Last month, Federal Judge Michael Barrett slapped both the county and the city on the hand for the ongoing feud about MSD, and who's in charge and who makes the decisions.
"If the parties are not able to stop the finger-pointing and begin to work collaboratively, the court will be forced to implement more draconian measures consistent with this court's power to enforce the consent decree," Barrett wrote in his opinion and order.
Many Phase One consent decree projects were completed in 2018 and 2019, but more work is needed to reduce sewer overflows during heavy rain events.
The two sides have not been able to agree on what projects should be included in the second phase of the plan, or how long that part of the plan to should last.