The Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District Board of Trustees last week tentatively approved a consent decree that would settle a 4-year-old federal lawsuit over alleged clean-water regulation violations by the district.
Trustees voted unanimously in favor of introducing legislation endorsing the decree, which would require MSD to undertake an estimated $4.7 billion in capital improvements and comply with other mandates over the next 23 years.
The board will consider final approval of the settlement at a special meeting at 7:30 a.m. Wednesday, June 29, at MSD headquarters, 2350 Market St., St. Louis.
MSD was sued in June 2007 by the federal government on behalf of the Environmental Protection Agency and the state of Missouri on behalf of the Department of Natural Resources. Plaintiffs alleged in part that MSD violated the federal Clean Water Act of 1972 by discharging untreated sewage into rivers and creeks.
If approved, the consent decree would be between the district, the federal government and the Missouri Coalition for the Environment, which intervened in the case. The state has decided not to endorse the decree.
“This settlement will place St. Louis in a position to achieve compliance with the Clean Water Act through a multi-decade schedule without further litigation. It’s consistent with agreements made in other cities such as Kansas City, Indianapolis, Cincinnati, Baltimore, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Washington, D.C., and many others,” MSD Executive Director Jeff Theerman told the board last week.
MSD would be required to pay a $1.2 million civil penalty and eliminate all sewer outfalls under the decree.
The district also would have to invest $100 million in “green” infrastructure; implement a $1.6 million program to remove septic tanks and install, replace, rehabilitate or repair sewer lateral lines at homes of low-income residents; and meet numerous other planning and progress-reporting requirements.
The settlement comes as the district’s Rate Commission considers a wastewater-rate increase proposal to fund a roughly $1 billion Capital Improvement and Replacement Plan, or CIRP, to bring the MSD system into compliance with regulations; $634 million in total operating costs over the next four years; and $359 million in total debt service.
As proposed, customers owning a single-family home would pay an average of $32.37 per month for wastewater services beginning July 1, 2012.
That rate would increase to $36.71 per month in fiscal 2014, $41.56 per month in fiscal 2015 and $47.05 per month in fiscal 2016.
Commercial customers would be placed on a five-tier compliance charge system based on inspections and compliance samples.
A typical monthly commercial wastewater bill would increase to $292.50 in fiscal 2013, $326.55 in fiscal 2014, $368.05 in fiscal 2015 and $409.80 in fiscal 2016.
MSD hopes to issue $945 million in bonds and use $171 million in cash to finance the CIRP.
Voters would have to approve the bond issue and may consider the measure in the April election.
If voters reject the bond issue, MSD may be left to fund the entire CIRP with cash, which officials said would cause the average single-family wastewater rate to increase to $73.35 per month in fiscal 2013.
However, Theerman said last week the two scenarios are the “extremes” and that the Rate Commission could recommend higher or lower amounts of bond and cash usage.
The commission received the wastewater rate-increase proposal May 10 and has up to 165 days to make a recommendation to the Board of Trustees. The commission is expected to conduct public hearings throughout its deliberations to gather input from ratepayers.
MSD already has scheduled a wastewater-rate increase for fiscal 2012.
On July 1, the average single-family’s monthly wastewater bill will increase to $28.73 from $27.56. Commercial customers will pay an average of $254.80 per month in fiscal 2012 — up from $244.25.
Those increases will be the last in a series of rate increases voters approved in April 2008.