Environment Local News

MSD Outlines Progress on Sewer Improvements at Public Meeting

The Metropolitan Sewer District is in the process of implementing a 19-year $850 million plan to upgrade the county’s sewer systems and improve water quality. The MSD held an open house today to answer questions about the project.

Inside the Watterson Expressway, there are combined sewers, where rainwater, wastewater and sewage mix. In the outer corners of Jefferson County, there are sanitary sewers, which is just wastewater and sewage from buildings.

MSD Executive Director Bud Schardein says the agency’s consent decree with the Environmental Protection Agency mandates that discharge be reduced. Part of the project involves repairing the county’s sanitary sewers.

“What makes a sanitary sewer overflow so bad is it’s a very concentrated waste water,” Schardein said. “So when it leaks or discharges, there’s not the dilution factor there that there is in a combined sewer overflow that’s mixed with storm water.”

The other parts of the consent decree involve reducing overflow from the combined sewers during storms. The MSD is constructing new storage basins and building rain gardens to help absorb the excess water.

But Louisville resident Clarence Hixson didn’t think the agency’s efforts to get public comment during the meeting were genuine.

“This public consultation is coming in on the tail end of the process instead of at the front end of the process when we might have offered some meaningful input,” he said. “We’ve been denied meaningful input into the alternatives and consideration of this project.”

The MSD staff didn’t address Hixson’s concerns during the public meeting, but later Schardein said the consent decree is flexible, and the MSD is willing to incorporate any good ideas.

Local News

MSD Still Pursuing Buyouts To Prevent Flooding

The head of the Metropolitan Sewer District says more storms like the one that caused last year’s flash flood are likely in the city’s future, and he wants to prepare local infrastructure.

More than seven inches of rain fell in just over an hour on parts of the city on the morning of August 4th, 2009. The rain was too much for Louisville’s drainage system to handle, and flood waters damaged homes, businesses, government buildings and vehicles in parts of west, central and south Louisville.

MSD Director Bud Schardein stops short of blaming climate change or other causes, but says these kinds of weather incidents are becoming more common.

“There was about 8-10 inches of rain that fell in Chicago in several hours,” he says. “In June, there were people who died—I believe 20 or so—in flash flooding in the Ozarks due to a very heavy, very intense rain event in a very short period of time and just a week later in Oklahoma, the same thing occurred. This is a trend.”

Schardein says MSD is applying for federal grants to buy homes in flood-prone areas and replace them with green space. The open lots would absorb water during storms and help prevent the sewers from overflowing.

“If we’re successful, and I think we’re going to be with some of these, then we’re going to be able to offer those homeowners the opportunity to leave that area where they’re vulnerable—relocate to another home,” he says.

Schardein says the district is eyeing about 130 homes for buyouts. So far, he says homeowners have been receptive.

Local News

New Albany Council Nearing Final Vote On Sewer Rate Increase

by Gabe Bullard

The New Albany City Council is preparing to hold a final vote on a plan to increase sewer rates. The rate increase would be used to finance federally mandated infrastructure improvements to the sewer system.

The plan before the council would increase rates about 50 percent over the next few years. The extra revenue would be combined with a $7.4 million loan and used to upgrade the sewer system.

The plan passed the council 5-4 Monday. Councilman Pat McLaughlin voted against it. He says the city should avoid taking out a loan and instead make sewer improvements gradually, as money becomes available.

“They should be fixed and they will be fixed, but there’s not really a mandate that’s been set of ‘You will do this in this period of time,'” he says.

A final vote on the plan will be held next Thursday.

Local News

New Albany Council To Discuss Revised Rate Increase Plan

by Gabe Bullard

A sewer rate increase could pass the New Albany City Council next month, but the proposal for raising rates is still being revised.

An analyst’s report issued last month recommended a 70% sewer rate increase to fund infrastructure improvements and payments on projects to the state revolving loan program. The council rejected that proposal, and since then, several new plans for raising the money have been put forward.

Council president John Gonder says the latest proposal uses tax increment financing to alleviate the burden of a rate increase on sewer customers.

“These TIF areas that happen to coincide with needed projects, what will happen is, the TIF money will be used to pay the interest that is in that state revolving loan program,” says Gonder.

The proposal also calls for an approximately 63% rate increase over five years, with an initial increase of 20%. The council will hold a work session Wednesday to review the plan, and Gonder says it could clear the council by mid-April.

Local News

New Albany Council To Consider New Sewer Rate Increase Plan

A proposed 70 percent sewer rate increase has been rejected by the New Albany City Council. But the council will consider another rate increase proposal next month.

The 70 percent increase was recommended in an analyst’s report that found an urgent need for bond payments and federally-mandated infrastructure improvements in the New Albany sewer system.

The state has since made some money available for New Albany, and in light of that, analysts are recommending a plan that would increase rates by 62 percent over the next two years.

The council will consider that plan on March 11th. Councilman Stephen Price opposes the increase. He says he would rather use money collected from the city’s Economic Development Income Tax.

“Worse case scenario, and there’s no money and we have to pay these bonds which we’re paying now, we’re going to have to use EDIT money,” he says.

Price is also calling for public meetings to discuss the increase and an audit of the sewer board.

Local News

New Albany Sewer Rate Increase Goes To Council This Week

A proposed 70 percent sewer rate increase for New Albany will go before the city council this week.

The council will meet Thursday to discuss the sewer board’s request, which comes after an analyst’s report that showed a dire need for funds to keep up bond payments and make federally mandated infrastructure improvements.

Council president John Gonder says the council won’t be prepared to tackle the financial needs until the body completes its own review of the analyst’s report.

“That’s not to call into question anyone’s motives or talent or anything like that,” he says. “It’s that we have to be, when we’re being asked to take on something like this and approve it, you’ve got to be very careful with what you’re coming up with.”

Gonder says it’s unlikely the council will eventually favor such a large increase. Instead, he says the body will likely look for other sources of funding.

Local News

New Albany Sewer Board Requests Rate Increase

The New Albany Sewer Board is asking the city council to approve a 70 percent sewer rate increase. But the council isn’t ready to vote on the rate hike just yet.

The board’s request comes after an analyst’s report that showed a dire need for funds to keep up bond payments and make federally mandated infrastructure improvements in the New Albany sewer system.

The council will meet next Thursday to discuss the increase. President John Gonder says he doesn’t think the council will be prepared to approve a hike until they complete their own study of the analyst’s report, which likely won’t be conducted before the meeting.

“I think we’ll have someone in place to do it. I’m sure we’ll have someone in place to do it,” he says. “Not being an accountant myself, I don’t have any idea how long it takes to run through these numbers.”

The council must vote on the measure twice, so it won’t pass or fail until March. Gonder says he doesn’t think there’s enough support for such a large rate increase, but the council’s study could outline other ways to pay for the sewer improvements.

Local News

New Albany Sewer Board Will Likely Ask For 70% Rate Increase

The New Albany Sewer Board met Thursday to discuss a proposed 70 percent increase in sewer rates.

The revenue would go toward bond payments and federally-mandated infrastructure improvements. The sharp rate hike was recommended by consultant John Skomp, who conducted a review of the board’s needs and budget, and says a rate increase is the only way the body can pay its bills.

“The utility is in some dire financial straits, really doesn’t have the ability on its own to go out and borrow more money right now, and it just needs to bring in the money pretty quickly.”

The sewer board will vote on the increase next week. If it passes, the request will go to the city council for approval and could be in effect by May. It would then generate more than half a million dollars per month.

Mayor Doug England says he reluctantly supports the increase.

In-Depth News Local News

In Depth: MSD Considering Buyouts To Prevent Floods

On August 4th, six inches of rain fell on parts of Louisville in about 90 minutes. The freak storm caused a flood disaster, especially in the western and southwestern sections of the city. In those flood-prone areas, the city’s combined sewer system could not handle the massive amounts of water entering drains. Now Metro Sewer District officials are looking for ways to allow more water into the ground instead of into the sewer.

Three weeks after the flood, west Louisville resident Felicia Gardner told a Metro Council committee that what happened on August 4th was a more severe episode of the flooding that happens during every hard rainfall.

“If any of this occurred in the east end on a daily basis, you all would be doing something about it,” she said. “You know it, I know it, we all know it. Let’s keep it real.”

The east end may not flood as often, but Metro Government’s options are limited when it comes to keeping neighborhoods dry. The combined sewer system underneath much of the city handles both storm runoff and waste water. Even though it’s one of the largest combined sewers in the world, it’s out of date. Parts of it were built more than a century ago, when there wasn’t much to prevent water from soaking into the ground instead of draining into the sewer.

“No one in the 30s ever envisioned the amount of build-out that we see today,” says Metro Sewer District director Bud Schardein.

The ground over the combined sewer was covered with houses and driveways so gradually over the years that Schardein says MSD didn’t realize a drainage problem was being created as it granted building permits. He says it’s financially and logistically unfeasible to rebuild the sewer, so other steps have to be taken to reduce the amount of water going into the sewer. That could mean using a federal grant to buy flood-prone homes in west and southwest Louisville and destroy them, thereby freeing up more ground to absorb rainwater.

“Even with very, very large combined sewers already in the ground, just because of the elevation of those properties or those neighborhoods, a very heavy rain will continue to inundate the areas,” he says.

“If the water had somewhere else to go, that would alleviate the pressure enormously,” says Rose George, author of The Big Necessity, a book about waste management. She says Louisville isn’t unique: all over the world, permeable ground has been paved over, leading to flood-prone neighborhoods.

“Creating more permeable ground is probably the best solution we have the moment because it simply gives the water somewhere else to go,” she says. “And therefore it doesn’t go down in the sewers and it doesn’t overload the sewers and you don’t have floods.”

Many of the residents that might be bought out are represented by Metro Councilwoman Judy Green.

“They get flooded frequently in a heavy rain,” says Green. “So I think that they are ready to go on and look for higher ground.”

Green says her constituents are tired of flooding, but there may be a problem with buyouts.

“Over at 23rd and Maple, where the houses are shotgun-type houses probably worth 15 thousand dollars, how are you going to realistically move to a new place or a new home for that amount?” she says.

The funding for buyouts isn’t yet secured and Schardein says he won’t try to force anyone to leave. In the meantime, MSD is installing backflow prevention valves in homes and encouraging property owners to build water-absorbing rain gardens at their own expense. Both can help prevent flooding, but Schardein says the water is always going to need someplace to go.

And to keep citizens informed of their options, Councilwoman Green expects the ad-hoc flood committee that she co-chairs to pass a resolution summarizing the causes of the flood and the city’s response in the aftermath.

Local News

Property Changes Could Prevent Floods

SchardeinLouisville’s Metro Sewer District Director Bud Schardein says residents can help prevent future flooding with their landscaping choices.

Schardein suggests property owners in areas that flooded in this month’s storm consult MSD about building rain gardens. The gardens are green spaces over absorbent ground layered with gravel, grass and plants that will hold draining water during rain events.

“The downspout now isn’t connected to the sewer system, which isn’t causing the sewer to overload, and the water now is naturally going down through the garden, through the sub-base and back into the ground water,” he says.

Schardein says another plan to prevent flooding could be for the city to apply for federal funds to purchase homes in high risk areas and create better drainage sites.

“We voluntarily ask people if they would like to relocate and turn that area into green space and turn it into storage during heavy rain events,” says Schardein.

Both plans, he says, would help prevent the type of sewer overload that caused the recent flash floods.