The cities of Bellevue, Papillion, La Vista and Gretna have joined Omaha in requesting that the federal government fund half the $1.7 billion cost of a historic sewer separation project.
The four Sarpy County cities contract with Omaha for the transportation and treatment of their sewage and will therefore share in anticipated cost increases imposed by the unfunded Environmental Protection Agency mandate.
The Bellevue City Council passed a resolution Sept. 26 supporting Omaha's request. The effort is backed by Rep. Lee Terry whose district encompasses Omaha, Bellevue and Papillion.
The cost of the mandate to individual taxpayers is expected to be significant.
Terry's office has estimated that the average homeowner tied in to Omaha's sewage disposal system currently pays about $13 a month, a rate that could climb to at least $50 in order to finance the project. Businesses, which are also tied to the system, might see even higher costs.
The need for the project is undisputed.
The City of Omaha's sewer infrastructure was laid during the 19th century. In large part, it transports storm water and sewage through the same pipes to water treatment plants. In times of heavy rain, the capacity of the sewers is overwhelmed, causing raw sewage to flow into streets, homes and into waterways such as the Missouri River and the Papillion Creek.
The EPA has ordered Omaha to reduce those overflows from 50 a year to four.
This is a major challenge to Omaha, since older neighborhoods covering approximately 50 square miles are served exclusively by combined sewers.
Persuading the federal government to help fund the EPA mandate has been a tough slog.
At one point Terry touted a $500,000 earmark he secured that will help fund the project, even though that figure represents less than 0.03 percent of the total cost.
"It's a drop in a bucket, but that's $500,000 they didn't have before," Terry posted on his congressional website.
The project will include two new stormwater treatment plants, two underground storage facilities and a 5.4-mile tunnel built 175 feet below ground which, at approximately $400 million, will be the project's single most expensive component.