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Middle Ground: MSD Considering Settlement of 2007 Federal Lawsuit

Recent rate increase proposals were developed with mediation of suit in mind, an MSD spokesperson says.

The Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District Board of Trustees (MSD) has introduced a measure for a consent decree that would settle a 2007 federal and state lawsuit.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Missouri Coalition for the Environment and the Missouri Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) filed the civil action suit claiming the district violated the Clean Water Act.

The suit alleges the district discharged untreated sewage from its collection system through combined sewer overflows and constructed sanitary sewer overflows. It also alleges the district was in violation of conditions established in the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permits issued by the MDNR.

The decree is part of mediation efforts and consists of an estimated $4.7 billion in improvements to the sanitary and combined collection system and in wastewater treatment plants over a 23-year period. The district would also need to come up with a master plan and provide continuous, detailed reporting on all activities spelled out in the decree.

To offset civil penalties, the district would spend $1.6 million to implement a Sewer Connection & Septic Tank Closure Program for low-income residents. The decree also includes a $1.2 million civil penalty to the federal government to be paid within 30 days of the effective date of the document.

Last month, district staff proposed to the MSD Rate Commission a $945-million bond issue to be placed on the April ballot. It would raise the average homeowner’s monthly bill by nearly 64 percent throughout the course of four years.

The bond issue would help fund a capital improvement plan of slightly over $1 billion, said Lance LeComb, an MSD spokesman. It would also help offset expenses directly related to the issuance of bonds.

“I can’t comment on the decree because it’s active litigation, but the rate proposal was presented with the mediation of the lawsuit in mind,” Lecomb said. 

The other option staff proposed would be to fund capital improvements using cash only. Under that proposal, homeowners would see a 155-percent rate hike next year, which would bring the average homeowner’s bill from $28.73 to $73.35 a month.

“Those were the bookends we presented to the commission – the highs and lows,” he said. “But there’s a range of options the commission can consider between the bond issue and the cash-only option.”

The commission consists of 15 members from organizations that represent MSD customers and the community. The commission has up to 165 days to decide on the proposal before making a recommendation to the district’s board.

The board has scheduled a special meeting June 29 at 7:30 a.m. to vote on the consent decree measure. The meeting will be held at the district’s headquarters at 2350 Market St.

MSD is responsible for the interception, collection and treatment of wastewater and the management of stormwater. The district serves about 80 percent of St. Louis County and all of St. Louis City. It operates seven wastewater treatment facilities and treats an average of 330 million gallons of sewage a day.

"An earlier version of this story misstated the parties included in the decree/settlement. It also misstated how much of the bond issue would be used to offset bond issue expenses. A corrected version of the story appears above."

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