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Mayor Francis Slay, left, Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District Operations Division Manager Neil Frankenberg, center, and County Executive Charlie Dooley discuss the Lemay Wastewater Treatment Plant odor problems during the Proposition Y campaign kickoff. Increased odor control is just one of the improvements that would be implemented at the south county facility upon voter approval of Proposition Y Feb. 3, according to Frankenberg. Alyson E. Raletz photo (click for larger version)

Dooley, Slay endorse MSD bond issue; voters to consider Proposition Y Feb. 3

City and county officials met recently in Lemay to endorse the Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District's Proposition Y, a $500 million bond issue that they contend would help the district comply with the federal Clean Water Act.

Just feet away from the sights and smells of raw sewage at the Lemay Wastewater Treatment Plant, officials explained that if voters support Proposition Y Feb. 3, then the sewer district will be able to generate enough funds to implement measures for better odor control and to:

• Renovate the sewer system to prevent overflows into streams and creeks.

• Increase capacity at treatment plants to meet the provisions of the Clean Water Act.

• Upgrade and replace 80-year-old sewer pipes.

• Upgrade and replace "inadequate sanitary sewer tunnels," according to a press release issued by the Good Jobs and Clean Water Committee, a citizens' committee that is promoting the passage of Proposition Y.

Treatment facilities in south county, according to Lance LeComb, MSD public affairs specialist, directly would benefit from the passage of Proposition Y.

If Proposition Y is approved by the voters Feb. 3, the Lemay Wastewater Treatment Plant's wet-weather capabilities would be improved, LeComb told the Call, preventing overflows into south county creeks and streams. Wet-weather capabilities also would be increased as part of the Gravois Sanitary Trunk line enhancement.

The MSD also plans to use funds generated by Proposition Y to help fund programming at the new Meramec Wastewater Treatment Plant, which would help eliminate the Baumgartner lagoons and replace that area's piping, he said.

"The need for the improvements is very clear on the MSD side," Prop Y campaign manager Lou Hamilton told the Call, noting that the region's sewer system ranges from 80 to 100 years old. "We have an excess of supply over a capacity to handle ... so we have to upgrade and improve the capacity of our treatment facilities. We have to upgrade and fix problems across the community, including the city and county, with aging infrastructure."

First and foremost, these improvements are essential to the health and well-being of the community, Hamilton added, and secondly, they are crucial to keep MSD from violating federal law, which the district is doing.

The Environmental Protection Agency can impose fines or even ban connections to the system, according to the press release, if MSD does not significantly improve its sewers and facilities.

"We don't have the capacity to treat what we're generating. For example, in the city of St. Louis, we have something called combined sewer overflows, so when the stuff goes out of the street and down into the end of the sewer, or when you flush you're toilet ... and it all goes into the same pipe, at some point it splits off — storm water, wastewater," Hamilton said. "But when we have huge rain storms, it backs up and it bypasses the treatment facility and it goes right out into the river. And that's against the law. We have to stop that."

Mayor Francis Slay spoke during the kickoff, emphasizing that, by law, money generated from Proposition Y only could be used for capital improvements and could not be spent on salary increases for MSD personnel.

County Executive Charlie Dooley plugged the economic benefits Proposition Y would bring the community, noting that estimates show 7,000 area jobs could be created for the project, upon voter approval.

"The new jobs and the economic impact of $1 billion in this new investment are a critical component for a local economy," Dooley said. "Like Mayor Slay, I have faith the new MSD trustees will ensure accountability of the expenditures of the bonds. Proposition Y not only means more jobs and clean water, it also stands for accountability and affordability."

The funding for Proposition Y would be spread out during a 25-year period, according to a press release, and the average customer could see a $6 monthly increase.

However, if voters do not approve Proposition Y and the MSD pays for each phase of construction from current funds, sewer bills could increase 191 percent during the five-year construction period, according to the release. The release indicates that the average homeowners' rates would jump to $37 per month, without voter approval of Proposition Y, but if the MSD is permitted to issue the $500 million in bonds, rates would average $23 a month.

Tom Sullivan, longtime MSD critic, does not believe voters should support Proposition Y, but he did acknowledge the region's need for sewer improvements.

"I just don't think the voters of St. Louis and St. Louis County should approve a bond issue for a sewer district, which has proven over and over again that it refuses to be accountable to the people of this area," Sullivan told the Call. "I think when you look at some of the outlandish spending in recent times ... it's hard to say that they deserve support."

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