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EPA, Wyandotte County move forward on plan to fix sewer overflows

Updated: 2013-03-23T04:29:06Z

By LYNN HORSLEY

The Kansas City Star

The Environmental Protection Agency announced today that it has reached a preliminary agreement with Wyandotte County to address sewer overflows and urban water pollution.

The agreement sets the stage for the Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kan., to begin planning a sewer overhaul program, similar to one that Kansas City embarked on recently. Wyandotte County’s program is not expected to be as massive as Kansas City’s, which is scheduled to take 25 years and cost an estimated $2.5 billion.

The partial settement is subject to a 30-day public comment period and approval by the federal court.

“This is like a first step,” said Unified Government Public Works Director Bob Roddy. “It allows us to study the problem and come back with different proposals.”

Negotiations with the EPA began in 2009. The EPA alleges that, since 2004, the Unified Government has had more than 450 illegal raw sewage overflows into Missouri and Kansas rivers and tributaries, although Roddy said the county disputes that allegation. The settlement puts the county on a path to modernize its sewer system to comply with the Clean Water Act.

The settlement, which was filed Thursday in federal court in Kansas City, Kan., requires the Unified Government to perform some initial work to address sewer overflows in the older northeast parts of the city, where the combined sewer systems are located.

It must also develop a proposed overflow control plan by September 2016. The county, EPA and the U.S. Justice Department would then work together to develop a long-term schedule to implement it.

Over in Kansas City, Mo., the sewer overhaul program is expected to be one of the city’s largest public works projects ever and is already resulting in costly annual sewer rate increases.

Roddy said the cost and time frame for Wyandotte County’s sewer overhaul plan is not yet known. He said the county wants to be a good environmental steward, but will also emphasize keeping rates reasonable and affordable.

“We’re not going to sign onto a program we cannot afford,” he said.

To reach Lynn Horsley, call 816-226-2058 or send email to lhorsley@kcstar.com.

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