Finkbeiner seeks solution in EPA action against city

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

Page A18

Mayor Carty Finkbeiner took advantage of his recent Washington trip to work on a Toledo problem: figuring out how to clean up the Maumee River and end a federal lawsuit against the city.

On Wednesday, Mr. Finkbeiner met with high-level officials of the federal Environmental Protection Agency in an attempt to settle the agency’s eight-year-old suit against the city. Federal authorities object to the city’s habit of dumping raw or partially treated sewage into the Maumee River.

The mayor called the meetings a “very positive step” toward a resolution of the suit.

“We’re going to make one last presentation of our side and see if we can settle this,” he said.

In 1991, the EPA sued the city over problems with the city’s combined sewer and stormwater system. During heavy rainfall, the antiquated system becomes overtaxed and begins dumping some of its contents directly into the river.

As a result of the dumping, the Maumee has high levels of fecal coliform bacteria, which can expose anyone in contact with the river to infection.

The city has long acknowledged that improvements need to be made, and has agreed to pay fines totaling $1.2 million and make certain structural changes to the sewage system. But the federal government has not been satisfied with the extent of the city’s changes, city utilities director Don Moline said.

The key sticking point, Mr. Moline said, is that the EPA wants the city to build a 60 million-gallon equalization tank that would hold wastewater and stormwater during heavy rains, to prevent it from flowing into the river. The tank would cost about $45 million to build, and millions more to maintain, he said.

Mr. Moline said that the city doesn’t think the tank is necessary, and that other changes the city is making will make the tank unnecessary.

Until the mayor’s meeting, the EPA had expressed a desire to have a federal judge decide whether Toledo should have to build an equalization tank. But after he was invited to the White House for a state dinner last week, Mr. Finkbeiner arranged to meet with several EPA officials while in Washington.

At Wednesday’s meeting, Mr. Finkbeiner said, the EPA expressed a willingness to settle the matter out of court.

“Based on the positive comments from the meeting participants, it appears that an opportunity exists to find a middle ground for agreement,” the mayor wrote yesterday in a letter to Brian Maas, the director of EPA’s water enforcement division.

EPA representatives could not be reached for comment.

The mayor, Mr. Moline, and city attorney Kerry Bruce will meet with EPA representatives in the next two weeks to attempt to reach a settlement. They will be negotiating with Mr. Maas and Francis X. Lyons, the EPA’s top administrator for Region V, which includes most of the Midwest.