Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Ohio's EPA championing no/low interest loans to help state's water quality issues

Ohio’s environmental guardian agency doled out nearly $1 billion in 2017 to help finance drinking water and above ground water-protection projects.

The $936 million dollars was the largest ever such figure in the history of the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency’s 28-year-old revolving loan program. This program was – and still is – designed to assist local governments via loans below market/bank rates.

Below‐market interest rates provide significant cost savings compared to a market interest  rates. As such, the $936 million resulted in a combined savings to these local entities, said the Ohio EPA’s director, Craig W. Butler.

It’s important for Ohioans to know that Ohio EPA is helping communities and business with compliance, technical and financial assistance,” Butler said. “We were able to make this nearly billion dollar investment in water quality improvements because these funds are carefully managed.”

Butler said that as part of his agency’s on-going effort his staff frequently pow-wow’s with local officials such as city administrators, mayors and county commissioners.

We do so in an effort to better understand their community needs and build positive working relationships between state and local governments,” Butler said.

Adding that such work helps bolster the infrastructure of local waste-water treatment, Butler said that these kinds of projects ultimately drive improvements to both the Lake Erie and Ohio River watersheds.

Among the projects getting the green light through this revolving loan fund were:

· $65 million was directed toward improving Ohio’s public water systems.

· $10 million was issued for projects that restore wetlands and counter the loss of Ohio’s natural water resources.
· $36 million was provided in principal-forgiveness financing at zero percent interest (meaning borrowers are not required to repay the loans).

· $13 million was distributed across 51 counties for home sewage treatment system (septic) replacement and upgrades.

· Seventeen loans were issued for large projects of $10 million or greater including combined sewer overflow projects in Cuyahoga, Hamilton, Franklin, Lorain, Lucas, and Summit counties along with large wastewater treatment plant improvements in Miami and Henry counties.

· $258 million was awarded for projects to separate combined sewer overflows in the Lake Erie watershed.

Butler said as well that while the $936 million figure sounds impressive the Ohio EPA is hoping to issue $1.7 billion in its revolving loan program, based upon application status and how far along is an applicant’s planning.

Among the first goals for 2018, the Ohio EPA is making $50 million available at a zero percent interest rate for regionalization projects.

Butler explained that regionalization is defined “as at least two independent entities working together to share the responsibility of providing services to their residential, commercial, and industrial customers by physically connecting their sewage collection systems or by using a centralized waste water treatment system.”

Likewise, said Butler, his agency made $100 million available at zero-percent interest in each of the past three years for infrastructure improvements to help curtail the algae blooms in Lake Erie.

About $50 million is being committed for such projects in 2018, the Ohio EPA says.

- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn

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