Earth Day, The Sewer District, and Me

It's about a week since the 40th anniversary of the first Earth Day in 1970. As you've no doubt heard, Earth Day sparked the environmental movement that gave us such improvements as the Clean Water and Clean Air Acts and dozens of other environmental laws that resulted in the indoor and outdoor air and water quality we enjoy today.

Possibly, living in North Collinwood, you have also heard about the latest planned improvement by the North East Ohio Regional Sewer District to Lake Erie's water quality, the Euclid Creek Tunnel, a 3.4 mile colossus, writhing through North Collinwood 200 feet underground towards the Easterly Wastewater Treatment Plant, where the tunnel will deposit stored, combined rain and sanitary sewer runoff. Without construction of this tunnel, treatment of the combined sewer overflow cannot be accomplished due to the age and low technology of our sewer structures. 

All good stuff, you say, and it is. But the activism of the first Earth Day should now be an inspiration to North Collinwood residents to ask hard questions of the Sewer District, and anyone they employ, to do a project that will be (in their words) for "the greater good".

Given that the  Plain Dealer's headline announced on April 21, 2010 (the day BEFORE the 40th anniversary of Earth Day) that NEORSD's ex-lawyer has pled guilty to accepting bribes of over $600,000 in return for steering contracts to build the Millcreek Tunnel (a companion to the one that will be built in North Collinwood) it's clear that the Sewer District has a lot of explaining to do to those of us that will have to live with this monstrosity of a project for the next several years, as well as to the ratepayers who will be footing the bill. Just as there were with the first Earth Day activists, there are many issues to educate ourselves on, many questions to ask, and many officials to hold accountable.

On April 20, I attended a meeting at the Cleveland Library on Lakeshore Boulevard where NEORSD presented their plan for the Euclid Creek tunnel to neighborhood residents. This was an unsettling meeting for a number of reasons, the least of which was that NEORSD staff insisted that all questions from those attending be held until the end of the presentation, which ran so long that few questions were addressed.

Unsettling also was the tone of the presentation. Issues like the use of dynamite to allow NEORSD to sink a 24 foot wide shaft 200 feet in the Beulah Park neighborhood were minimized. NEORSD staff said, incredibly, that "the human body is the most sensitive instrument to a vibration, but property won't be damaged". In other words, although humans might find our world rocked by construction dynamite during this project, we don't need to worry about permanent damage to structures, an attitude that presupposes the biggest concerns we might have about dynamite have to do with what happens to our houses, not to ourselves. 

In the interest of full disclosure, I have to say that one of the project's planned "baffle-drop-shafts" which will be sunk 200 feet underground turns out to be sited about 50 feet from my front door in Beulah Park. The details of this project were not revealed to the neighborhood that will be living this dream for (they say) the next four years, starting this November, until the April 20 meeting, although NEORSD has owned the land where they will be digging this shaft for the past 7 years. Preliminary statistics about the project are dizzying.

Our neighborhood association (I am the Vice-President) is taking steps to educate people and to communicate with the sewer district about our needs. We are having a meeting with NEORSD on May 6 at the Golden Age Center on Lakeshore Boulevard, and I suspect others will follow. I advise everyone in North Collinwood and anywhere that is affected by NEORSD, to do the same regarding this project and the projects that will follow this one. NEORSD staff said that it will take about the next "20-30 years" (and billions of dollars) to finish the complete tunnel system that will clean up Lake Erie.

We need to demand the sewer district inform and protect residents along with our natural resources. Given their track record with the Mill Creek Tunnel and their short-sightedness in working with people in North Collinwood so far, we have no other choice than to get involved. This newspaper is a great vehicle to move the discussion. What better way to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Earth Day?

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Volume 2, Issue 5, Posted 1:29 PM, 04.30.2010