Is the city-county fight over the Sewer District in Hamilton County over?

The City of Cincinnati and Hamilton County have been fighting for years over the control of the Sewer District.  The 50 year agreement between the City and County ended in April 2018, but the District Court extended that agreement temporarily and the City of Cincinnati appealed that decision. Despite years of argument and court filings and mediation, the parties could not agree on not only the future arrangement for ownership and operation of the sewer district but also could not agree on a Phase II plan for the consent decree implementation, and continue to argue over projects under the consent decree, and budgets, etc.

The sixth circuit District Court of Appeals 2019 Sixth Circuit Decision that Cincinnati cannot unilaterally withdraw from its agreement with Hamilton County Board of Commissioners because “the city’s withdrawal would interfere with the environmental remediation projects that the City and Board had committed to implement under a 2004 consent decree.”  The Court also affirmed that the County is the principal and the City is the agent, and the City is subject to the County’s oversight.

In the meantime, the Regulators (USEPA, Ohio EPA, ORSANCO) have imposed a Phase II schedule of projects on the City and County. However, the City and County can still submit a joint plan, subject to the Regulators’ approval.

In the interim, time is short for the city and county to adopt a 5-year capital budget for projects which commence in 2020 to implement Phase II.  Will the City and County submit a joint plan or will they implement the Regulators’ plan or will the County continue to assert that only its plan should be the one submitted to the Regulators for approval? In the meantime, efforts to stop environmental and public health degradation continue. Even interim work on projects intended to “bridge” the gap between the City and County are behind schedule and the City and County cannot agree on the implementation of one of the projects.

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