Senators urge EPA to act in Cahokia Heights, citing possible Clean Water Act violation
Source: Belleville News-Democrat
U.S. Sens. Tammy Duckworth and Dick Durbin are calling on the Environmental Protection Agency to force Cahokia Heights to fix flooding issues in the former Centreville area.
Duckworth and Durbin sent a letter to the EPA Thursday, urging the agency to assist the city in an effort to avoid possible penalties that may be enforced under the Clean Water Act. Those actions could include issuing an administrative order of compliance, an administrative penalty order, or pursuing judicial civil or criminal penalties.
The letter follows the EPA’s notice of potential violation of the Clean Water Act by the Commonfields of Cahokia Public Water District.
The agency sent the notice after EPA inspectors observed sanitary sewer overflows and “serious” operations and maintenance issues in the sanitary sewer systems, according to Duckworth’s office.
“After years of the citizens of this district suffering as a result of this dilapidated system, we want to ensure that any opportunities that exist to help the Commonfields of Cahokia Public Water District with funding sources and technical assistance in order to come into compliance are promptly identified and utilized,” the senators’ letter states.
For years, residents in at least 54 homes in the 4.29 square-mile area of the former north Centreville community have struggled with flash flooding and raw sewage in yards and homes that does not drain away. The community is now part of the new city of Cahokia Heights, formed by the merger of Centreville, Cahokia and Alorton.
Residents say failed infrastructure and neglect by public agencies have hurt their community and made it almost impossible to live there.
The two senators have visited the area, both vowing to help residents.
Local officials have said merging the three towns into one larger city will help Cahokia Heights get money to help fix the issues. The city’s new mayor, Curtis McCall Sr., has pledged to make addressing the infrastructure issues a top priority of his administration.
In their letter, the senators also urged the EPA to take steps to avoid “further financial burden and suffering” being passed on to the residents of Cahokia Heights.
“It is our hope that while EPA considers these enforcement options, every effort to avoid further financial burden and suffering being passed to the residents of Cahokia Heights be taken,” the letter states. “We strongly support frequent and robust community engagement throughout this process to ensure that the identified solutions assist in meeting the needs of the residents.”
McCall said Thursday the senators’ letter is needed to keep the new city on the right track.
“I think it’s something that needs to be done, to hold everybody accountable, and what they’re doing is holding Cahokia Heights accountable, and we’re saying that we want to be held accountable, ” McCall said.
In an April 30 letter to McCall, who also is chairman of Commonfields of Cahokia Public Water District, the EPA stated a potential Clean Water Act violation has been identified as a result of an ongoing investigation into the water district’s system.
The EPA said sanitary sewer overflows had been documented at least 25 times since Jan. 26, based on field observations by the agency and reports submitted to the EPA by Commonfields.
The EPA also said if it is determined that Commonfields or Cahokia Heights are not in compliance with Clean Water Act requirements, the agency would consider the enforcement options that Duckworth and Durbin call for in their letter.
Residents voted April 6 to dissolve Commonfields of Cahokia . The water and sewage district that served 7,000 customers in Centreville, Alorton and Cahokia was absorbed by Cahokia Heights and is now run by the city.
Last summer, a lawsuit filed on behalf of Centreville residents named Commonfields, local governments and officials as defendants, alleging they are responsible for failing to fix years of flooding and sewer issues.
Local officials have said they didn’t have enough money to repair the infrastructure problems.
Federal Grant Is Key to Fixing Issues
On Thursday, McCall said he and other officials in Cahokia Heights are in “negotiations” with the Illinois EPA and U.S. EPA over the possible violation. He said officials hope that a $22 million federal grant will fix many of the flooding and sewer issues.
The new Federal Emergency Management Agency grant program is titled BRIC, or Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities. It is designed to help communities reduce their risk to natural disasters, such as flooding.
“That’s part of the process of them trying to fix the problem, but everybody knows that it’s going to take money to fix the problem so we’re just hoping to get the BRIC grant so we can fix it,” McCall said. “That’s part of their process to make sure that cities and companies are compliant, but it’s stemming back from the problems with the pump stations and lift stations in the area.”
McCall said Cahokia Heights will fix the problems as soon as contractors can, but said if the city doesn’t receive the grant, it may take a couple of years.
In January, Centreville, Alorton and Cahokia submitted their $22 million application for the grant to the Illinois Emergency Management Agency. The state agency applied for the funding from FEMA on the former cities’ behalf to fix sewage issues throughout Cahokia Heights. McCall said he expects to be notified of the application status later this month.
By: Kavahn Mansouri and Deasia Paige
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