Katherine Kohls

The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is giving Butler County a low-interest loan of $3.2 million to replace corroding underground pipelines.

According to Bob Leventry, deputy director of Butler County Water and Sewer Department, the existing pipes are failing.

Dave Weihrauch, Oxford Water Treatment Plant manager, said that there are on average 60 water main breaks in Oxford each year. There are more breaks, he said, if the weather is harsh.

“In some cases pipeline breaks can damage property, landscaping and sometimes water will enter basements,” Leventry said. “The water can also come to the surface and pond, causing damage.”

In the case of damage, Leventry said that Butler County would pay to fix the pipeline and compensate property owners for any damage done while fixing the pipes.

Leventry said the current pipelines were supposed to last until 2040.

“The new water service lines will be made from copper to ensure they will last 40 years or more,” Leventry said.

Heather Lauer, spokeswoman for the Ohio EPA, said that a building boom in the late 1990s could have caused defects. According to Lauer the amount of pipeline that was laid during the boom may be part of the problem.

“At that time, (Butler County) was one the top five fastest growing regions in the state,” Lauer said.

Leventry said in 1988 Shell Oil Company extruded a plastic commonly used for water plumbing systems called polybutylene into the pipes. That material began to sheer and split at a high rate in 1996.

In 2003, Butler County sued Shell Oil Company and received a $10.45 million settlement. According to Leventry, this compensation was not enough to replace all of the service lines.

Leventry said the loan would be paid back at a 3.5 percent interest rate.

According to Lauer, the money for the loan comes from Ohio EPA’s Water Supply Revolving Loan Fund.

“As Butler County pays back the loan, money will be reallocated to other local governments,” Lauer said.

According to Lauer the loan is not competitive like a grant.

“We have limited money so we have to use a priority system,” Lauer said.

Lauer said drinking water is a top priority.

“We expect most (pipelines) to be replaced in seven to 10 years,” Leventry said.

Lauer predicts that 7,000 pipelines will be replaced in that time.

According to Leventry there are three phases, each lasting two years. The Ohio EPA loan will cover phase one, which will last from 2009-10.

Bob Hubbard, general manager of Butler County, said he would like to see some of the money go toward other infrastructure projects. Specifically, $300,000 to repaint 28 water tanks.

“Also, we are going to leverage our current cash and utilize loan rates to help with water rates for customers,” Leventry said.

Weihrauch said that the loan and improvements would help stimulate the economy. There will be energy savings and jobs created.

“These are good paying hourly jobs,” Weihrauch said. “It will get people working quickly.”

According to Weihrauch, work must begin within 100 days of receiving the money.

Weihrauch is happy to see the money going toward water system improvement.

“Traditionally, wastewater systems receive a lot of federal money,” Weihrauch said.

Weihrauch said that infrastructure projects are known for being slow. However, pipeline improvement and replacement requires very little engineering work.

After a water main break in downtown Cleveland, Ohio that caused significant damage March 8 of this year, Weihrauch said that it is pertinent to replace Butler County’s pipelines as soon as possible.