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Associated Press Newswires
c) 2004. The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Ohio Water and Sewer Improvement Projects to Get Federal Cash

By MALIA RULON
Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) - More than three dozen Ohio cities and counties will get an estimated $25 million to upgrade crumbling water and sewer systems through a long list of federal budget earmarks, providing a patchwork solution to the nation's aging infrastructure problem. The funds were included as set-asides in a massive spending bill that Congress agreed to over the weekend.

But they come as money for the Clean Water State Revolving Fund, which provides low-interest loans to communities to build or improve wastewater facilities, was slashed from $1.3 billion to $1.1 billion.

"As you see the federal government programs decreasing, you're going to find that municipalities and other groups are looking for specific funds through the earmark process," said Adam Krantz, director of government affairs for the Association of Metropolitan Sewerage Agencies. "That's really an unfortunate trend."

Earmarks are requests placed in the budget at the behest of lawmakers. They are criticized as pork, but generally supported by members of Congress who say they know best which programs should get funding.

The problem with earmarking money for water and sewer programs is that there is no standard for determining who gets the money, meaning that the most needy systems aren't always the ones who get the funding.

"This highlights the need for a national grant program," said William Schatz, general counsel for the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District and president of AMSA.

Schatz was pleased to see $350,000 included in the bill for the Doan Brook watershed project that is attempting to get sewer overflow problems in the Cleveland area under control. Still the money is only a fraction of the $100 million that's needed.

Funding for Ohio infrastructure ranged from $1.3 million to build a new waste water treatment plant in the southwest Ohio village of Bloomingburg to $50,000 to connect the Pickaway Elementary School in Circleville, south of Columbus, to its regional water and sewer district. The school was built in 1912 and still uses well water.

AMSA advocates the creation of a national trust fund to help communities pay for these upgrades. The fund would be similar to the highway trust fund that uses gas taxes to pay for road and bridge repairs.

Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, supports additional federal funds for loan and grant programs that address infrastructure needs.

"Wastewater infrastructure isn't a popular issue but it has a big impact on whether or not our lakes, river and streams are viable ecosystems," Voinovich spokesman Scott Milburn said.

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