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Covington approves storm water separation agreement and design of new Public Works Building

By Ryan Clark
NKyTribune reporter

In a special Commission meeting Tuesday night, the city approved a separation agreement between Covington and the Sanitation District relating to the management of Kentucky Pollutant Discharge Elimination System storm water discharge permits and other storm-related services.

Again meeting virtually due to COVID-19 restrictions, city commissioners gathered to discuss a few time-sensitive items to take action before the end of the year — one of which was the separation agreement.

They voted 4-1 to sign the agreement, with Commissioner Denny Bowman dissenting.

In 2003, SD1 and the city agreed to the Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (or MS4) permit. “Because we are co-permittees, we have to legally part ways with SD1 in order to proceed on our own for MS4 management,” city documents say.

In August, the Commission voted to authorize an application for an MS4 permit to the state. The state then suggested SD1 and the city sign the separation agreement, which SD1 signed last week, and approved by a vote of 6-1.

Now that the two have separated, the city can move on with its intent to take over management of storm water.

City leaders have previously said it is critical for residents to understand several points about this decision, and have listed them on their website:

• The change will take time and require more votes.

• The MS4 permit is extremely limited in its purview. The name itself refers to the system of “conveyances” (streets, curbs, gutters, catch basins, storm drains, ditches, etc.) that “convey” rain water to streams, rivers and eventually the ocean. The program itself governs only the quality, not the quantity, of storm water.

• SD1 will continue to oversee the city’s sanitary sewer system — or wastewater — that comes from showers, toilets, sinks and other parts of a building’s plumbing. It will also oversee combined sewers.

• Covington will continue to work in partnership with SD1 on issues related to sanitary sewer systems and combined sewer systems, including contributing money toward infrastructure projects in those realms.

• And the takeover of the MS4 permit will not be the end-all, be-all solution to problems of street flooding and sewer drain backups that happen during torrential rains. 

Back in August, the city put the Sanitation District on notice.

“The city and SD1, through various agreements, have partnered to administer the city’s MS4 (or Separate Storm Sewer Systems program) storm water permit program since 2003,” city documents read. “There have been significant problems with the current relationship and recent attempts to improve the relationship or reach a mutually agreeable separation solution have stalled. City staff believes residents would be better served by the city regaining sole responsibility for its MS4 storm water permit program.”

As the lone dissenter, Bowman said in August that he did not blame SD1 for their performance. “I think they’ve done the best they can,” he said.

At the same time, Meyer said that since 2003, the residents of Covington have paid $27 million in storm water fees and have gotten little in return.

“It’s clear that Covington issues are not a priority (for SD1),” Meyer said then. “They’ve overlooked their public health responsibilities.”

Now, the city is one step closer to taking over that work.

Public Works Building design

Commissioners approved an agreement with Hub & Weber Architects, PLC, to design the new Public Works building located at 1730 Russell St.

The city acquired the property in September, and Hub & Weber was “engaged to complete space needs/availability assessment, evaluate exterior access and create a preliminary space plan,” city documents read. “Staff is recommending that the city enter into a contract with Hub & Weber to complete the design work, produce construction documents (including mechanical, electrical and plumbing) and assist with administration of the construction.”

The cost will be $142,600.

The city said the timing was critical because of the need to vacate the current Boron Drive location, which has been acquired by Rumpke.

This proposal was originally scheduled for last week’s legislative meeting, but was tabled because Commissioners Shannon Smith and Tim Downing questioned how Hub & Weber were chosen for the project. City officials responded that an RFP process was not needed in this case, and because of the city’s previous relationship with the architects, as well as their knowledge of pricing out similar past projects, they felt comfortable moving forward.

Smith and Downing still voted no, but the order passed 3-2, with Commissioners Bowman, Michelle Williams and Mayor Meyer all voting in favor.

Both Smith and Downing said it was nothing against Hub & Weber.

“I think Hub & Weber does fantastic work,” Smith said. “I’ll leave it at that.”

Downing agreed.

“I think Hub & Weber will do a great job,” he said. “It’s more about the process.”

Bowman agreed with Smith and Downing, and said he also felt the architects would do an excellent job, but still voted for the order.

Healthcare contract renewed

Commissioners heard a proposal to renew a contract as part of the city’s self-insured medical insurance program with Employer Advisory Services, LLC, to provide continued access to St. Elizabeth Healthcare under the city’s reference-based pricing health plan for two years.

The proposal passed 5-0.

Mayor commends Transportation Cabinet

Last week, the Commission crafted and read a resolution for the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet, asking them to publicize through signage, and to enforce, the ban on hazardous chemicals transported on I-75, north of I-275, to the Ohio state line.

It said, in part, that “the Brent Spence is also vital to local employment and service delivery related to medical, educational, and basic human needs.”

“Each day that the ban on transporting hazardous materials north of the Interstate 275 interchange is not enforced creates a heightened risk to the citizens of Covington due to the typical interstate traffic being re-routed through Covington along state and local roads,” the resolution reads. “Similarly, each day the ban is not enforced creates a heightened threat to the movement of interstate commerce and traffic.”

Tuesday, Meyer commended the Cabinet for its efforts, as 13 signs have now been placed in the area and the bridge was reopened after the Nov. 11 crash that involved a truck carrying hazardous materials.

Calling the Cabinet’s efforts “nimble and focused,” the Mayor said it was “really nice to have a transportation cabinet that’s working with us.”

Next meeting

The next regularly scheduled Covington Commission meeting will be a caucus meeting held at 6 p.m., Jan. 5, 2021. The meeting can be followed live on Fioptics channel 815, Spectrum channel 203, the Telecommunications Board of Northern Kentucky (TBNK) website  www.tbnk.org/togo1, the TBNK Facebook page @TBNKonline, and the TBNK Roku channels.

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