Two Warren County cities are competing to provide sewer service on 481 undeveloped acres in a contentious example of a process designed to control public investment while protecting water quality.
Officials from Mason and Lebanon both want the OKI Regional Council of Governments to grant them exclusive rights to provide sewer service on land between the two cities that’s planned for residential and commercial development.
Mason officials appealed plans to turn over the service to Lebanon, predicting the arrangement could result in construction of as many as 800 new homes, crowding the growing school district.
“We’re not diving into that,” said Travis Miller, regional planning director for OKI, manager of the agency divvying up sewage service territories in southwest Ohio, northern Kentucky and eastern Indiana.
Instead, OKI strives to select the provider best able to protect water quality at the lowest cost, Miller said.
“What it really boils down to is making sure that we’re using tax dollars as wisely and efficiently as possible,” he said.
Mapping Ohio’s sewage treatment boundaries
OKI is one of a handful of areawide planning organizations responsible for changes to the statewide water quality management map in 24 of 88 Ohio counties.
Elsewhere in the state, Ohio EPA itself manages the map, which is updated every two years. So far, Ohio EPA has received new amendments from five areawide organizations and proposed one itself, according to Dina Pierce of Ohio EPA.
In the Dayton area, the Miami Valley Regional Planning Commission manages the regional section of the map, established under Section 208 of the U.S. Clean Water Act.
Through the law, authorities regulate maximum plant loads and discharge limits into lakes, rivers and creeks for municipal and industrial waste treatment facilities. These issues sometimes determine the extent of residential or commercial development.
Since 2007, MVRPC has approved changes to sewage treatment facilities in Greene and northern Montgomery counties, Gettysburg, Bradford and Yellow Springs. The next map update is scheduled for June.
“No community has contacted MVRPC with a request to update the 208 Map,” MVRPC spokeswoman Laura Loges said last week.
OKI is handling two amendments, including one in which officials in Clermont and Hamilton counties have reached a compromise on serving an area straddling the two counties and undergoing development, Miller said.
The changes are then reviewed by the Ohio EPA, which — like OKI — concentrates on water quality and treatment capacity, not the density of anticipated residential development or the implications for school districts.
“That’s a local decision,” Pierce said.
By March 31, Warren County commissioners plan to decide whether to continue support for Lebanon providing sewer service to the land, which is on U.S. 42 in Union Twp. and proposed for development by Terra Firma Associates, a Cincinnati-based developer.
Lebanon would sell Terra Firma 65 acres from an abandoned wellfield, as well as provide the service.
Terra Firma would pay $50,000 needed for a lift station to pump the sewage to Lebanon’s plant. Mason could serve the land from a nearby plant with gravity flow, reducing capital costs.
The county commissioners were about to recommend Lebanon to OKI in January when Mason asked for time to try work out a different solution. During a public meeting, Mason indicated it was willing to provide the service without requiring annexation into the city, while Terra Firma warned against delaying the project.
Terra Firma officials say they contacted both Mason and Lebanon in 2013. The developer reached an agreement with Lebanon and decided to move forward before Mason offered a commitment, lawyer Stephen Haughey said during a Jan. 29 public hearing held in Lebanon by OKI.
“Certainty and timeliness drove the efforts,” Haughey said.
Mason officials say they responded promptly to Terra Firma and urged the county at the hearing to postpone asking OKI for action on the map change.
Mason officials warn the decision will have long-range implications for both communities, the Mason City Schools and the entire area.
In late February, commissioners extended their deadline to March 31, allowing Mason more time to find a compromise.
On Tuesday, Mason and Terra Firma are scheduled to update the commissioners.
“I hope we’ll have more clarity on where our next step will be,” Mason City Manager Eric Hansen said.
Lebanon remains in favor of approval of its agreement with Terra Firma and has no plans to offer other proposals, City Manager Pat Clements said.
The OKI board is expected to decide the issue on April 10.