A number of Lorain County communities have access to low-interest loans to address wastewater and drinking water infrastructure issues in their respective communities, projects that often have multimillion-dollar price tags.
The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency announced Monday financing packages for Elyria, Lorain, Avon Lake and Lorain County. The loans were approved between April 1 and June 30.
Statewide, the EPA awarded more than $374 million in loans, including more than $22 million in principal forgiveness.
Elyria received approximately $22 million to upgrade its wastewater plants in order to reduce combined sewer overflow events. Avon Lake received more than $2.1 million to construct an emergency interconnect to the Elyria water system, and Lorain received more than $3.8 million to install new water mains.
Lorain County received $200,000 in a principal forgiveness loan to help replace failing home sewage treatment systems.
City Engineer John Schneider said Monday that the loan package will help Elyria as the city works to address its combined sewer system.
“This is great news,” he said. “These are costly and lengthy projects, so we will use the funding.”
The Ohio EPA announcement came on the same day Terry Korzan, superintendent of Elyria’s Wastewater Pollution Control Plant, addressed City Council with an update on how the city is addressing combined sewer overflow.
“Combined sewers are the oldest type of sewers in Elyria, and they convey both household sanitary waste and rain water to the Elyria wastewater plant for treatment,” he said. “These combined sewers comprise a very small percentage of Elyria’s sewers and are found in the oldest sections of the city, primarily south of the downtown area between East Avenue and West Avenue.”
Korzan said the sewers date back to the 1920s through 1940s.
“Overflow relief points were designed into them so that during heavier rain events excess flows caused by the rain would overflow out of these relief points to the river as a way to protect private property from sewage backups,” he said.
However, this type of system puts a nasty mixture of sewage and rainwater into the river, meaning residents have to avoid the river water. The loan funds from the EPA will fund an upgrade to the wastewater plant in order to reduce the number of combined sewer overflow events.
While the city is undertaking numerous projects to address this issue — think the large sewer project on Gulf Road and East Avenue — Korzan said it will be years before the city can completely eliminate combined sewers in Elyria.
In the meantime and in an effort to protect residents from the contaminated river water after heavy rains, the city is establishing an email notification system that will alert residents when the combined sewer overflows are actively dumping sewage water into the river.
The notifications will go out within four hours of the city being aware of active combined sewer overflows. Residents can request to be added to the email notification list by contacting Korzan at email@example.com.
“We are in the process of a comprehensive program to eliminate that overflow and a lot of the work residents are seeing is about eliminating that overflow,” said Mayor Holly Brinda. “These are the challenges indicative of a 201-year-old city, and we are not alone. A lot of older cities in the state are experiencing this, but I want to maintain that we are being proactive in our approach.”
“With such a need to get this work done in multiple communities, the financing packages — while not as coveted as grants — are ways cities can fund work,” said Lorain Mayor Chase Ritenauer.
“Most of what we get from the Ohio EPA is low interest loans when we can’t get things like grants,” he said. “We try to go for grants, but everyone has to get this work done on their systems so the low interest rate loans can really come in handy. I actually can’t recall a time that we’ve ever been told no on getting one of these low interest rate loans.”
Lorain is tackling infrastructure issues in south Lorain with the funding including areas such as Riverside Drive and Riverview Lane.
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