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City of Aurora Secures Funding for Chagrin River Restoration Project

The city of Aurora will receive $4.7 million through the Water Resource Restoration Sponsor Program (WRRSP) to restore and protect more than a mile of the Aurora Branch of the Chagrin River, Ohio EPA Director Scott Nally announced today.

“The environmental gains to be realized from Aurora’s restoration project are enormous,” Nally said. “The city’s proposal for this impaired section of stream provides a blueprint to improved water quality and is consistent with the Chagrin River Watershed Action Plan.”

The WRRSP funding will allow the city to acquire 186 acres of Aurora Golf Club property, remove manmade structures, restore the river’s natural flow and floodplain, and forever protect the property from future development. The project will restore and protect more than 33 acres of forested riverbank, 14,000 feet of stream and 13 acres of high-quality wetlands.

The WRRSP is part of Ohio’s Water Pollution Control Loan Fund (WPCLF), a revolving loan program that provides low-interest loans to cities and sewer districts for wastewater treatment improvements. In exchange for receiving a slightly reduced interest rate on a loan, WPCLF recipients agree to sponsor an environmental protection project.

Aurora’s proposed project is sponsored by the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District (NEORSD). It’s one of four WRRSP projects the sewer district agreed to sponsor in exchange for an interest rate reduction on a $42 million loan awarded to NEORSD in September to modernize the Southerly Wastewater Treatment Plant in Cuyahoga Heights. The $4.7 million for Aurora’s restoration project comes from existing WPCLF monies, but is based on interest payments due on the NEORSD sponsoring loan.

Aurora qualified for the funding based on the project’s potential to enhance and protect Ohio’s water resources. Downstream of the golf course property, the Aurora Branch of the Chagrin River is designated a State Scenic River. Restoring the impaired section of stream that runs through the golf course may allow for the scenic designation to be extended upstream.

The director’s decision may be appealed to the Environmental Review Appeals Commission (ERAC). Many appeals must be filed within 30 days of issuing the final action; therefore, Ohio EPA recommends that anyone wishing to file an appeal contact ERAC at (614) 466-8950 for more information.

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The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency was created in 1972 to consolidate efforts to protect and improve air quality, water quality and waste management in Ohio. In the past 40 years, air pollutants dropped by as much as 90 percent; large rivers meeting standards improved from 21 percent to 89 percent; and hundreds of polluting, open dumps were replaced with engineered landfills and an increased emphasis on waste reduction and recycling. Ohio EPA...40 years and moving forward.

 

FACT SHEET

The Water Resource Restoration Sponsor Program (WRRSP) Funding Process:

A Roadmap Using Aurora as an Example

1)   In 2012, the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District (NEORSD) requested $42.7 million from Ohio EPA’s state revolving fund loan program, known as the Water Pollution Control Loan Fund (WPCLF), for improvements to its Southerly Wastewater Treatment Plant.  The WPCLF provides low-interest loans to a wide variety of important water pollution control projects including municipal wastewater treatment projects (such as NEORSD’s) and nonpoint source pollution control projects (such as the Aurora Branch WRRSP project). It was created as a result of the 1987 amendments to the federal Clean Water Act to help address the nation’s water quality problems.

2)   Because of their interest in improving water resources within their region, NEOSRD agreed to sponsor four projects, including the Aurora Branch Chagrin River Restoration project on behalf of the City of Aurora, through the WRRSP.  Because the WPCLF program cannot provide grant funding, and because there is little funding available for the restoration and/or protection of high quality water resources, which is a critical element in achieving Ohio’s water quality goals, the WRRSP was developed.  To provide the grant-like funding from the WRRSP to help protect these resources, the program relies on WPCLF loans and the repayment of interest they generate. A WRRSP project is dependent on getting a sponsor with a sufficiently large WPCLF loan and associated interest amount to offset the cost of the WRRSP project, and one that has a similar project schedule for both to proceed to award and construction.  {see the answer to the last question below for additional information regarding the WRRSP}

3)   During the same timeframe, Aurora City Council discussed the proposal at four meetings before voting 7-1 in favor of applying for $4.7 million in WRRSP funds to purchase the Aurora Golf Course and restore and protect the Aurora Branch of the Chagrin River.  The city also asked NEORSD to sponsor its project.

4)   Following its completion of the required WRRSP restoration/protection plan, with the assistance of the Chagrin River Watershed partners, Council held an open house for citizens on Aug. 9, 2012, so interested parties could review and comment on the proposed restoration plan.  The 28 attendees heard a comprehensive overview of the proposed Aurora Branch Chagrin River Restoration project; many of the public concerns centered on the potential loss of the Aurora Golf Course.

5)   Ohio EPA conducted an environmental assessment of the proposed project, including the preliminary restoration plan, and determined the proposed work would have positive environmental impacts on the Aurora Branch of the Chagrin River, which is classified as an Outstanding State Water, placing it among the most ecologically important bodies of water in the State of Ohio.

6)   Ohio EPA’s review of the project planning information concluded that the project would provide important water quality benefits to the Aurora Branch.  Based on its project evaluation, Ohio EPA prepared and distributed an Environmental Assessment (EA) for the proposed project, and accepted public comments on these documents from Nov. 14 to Dec. 14, 2012.  The Agency received many comments on the project, both for and against.  A review of the comments revealed that no new environmental resource or impact information was submitted that would prohibit the award of funding for the project.

7)   On Dec. 24, 2012, the award of $4.7 million in WRRSP funds was approved by Ohio EPA so the City of Aurora can purchase the golf course and start work on the Aurora Branch Chagrin River Restoration project, which includes wetlands protection, dam removal, riverbank restoration and other related work. The funds come from the WRRSP component of the WPCLF and represent an advance of a portion of the interest NEORSD would otherwise repay back into the state revolving loan fund for its WPCLF loan.

8)   In return for sponsoring the Aurora project and three other WRRSP projects, NEORSD receives a 0.1% discount to its WPCLF interest rate.  NEORSD’s loan would normally have carried a 2.54% interest rate, but was reduced to 2.44% for sponsoring the WRRSP projects.  In addition to the small interest rate discount, NEORSD has a further incentive in that the WRRSP project is consistent with their mission to assist in the implementation of important water quality improvement projects in their region.

Q: Will the golf course will be sold and developed if WRRSP funds are not awarded?

A: In September 2008, the Aurora Golf and Country Club ceased operation and subsequently entered receivership due to falling membership and debt.  In May 2009, the property was purchased by its present owner.  In May 2011, the owner requested and secured a commercial rezoning of a portion of the property to facilitate its sale for redevelopment. As such, WRRSP funding will not cause the owner to shutter the golf course operations, but rather provide the means for the city to ensure that the stream corridor will be restored and protected, instead of being developed and possibly further degrading water quality.

Q: Did Ohio EPA purchase the Aurora Golf Course?

A: No. $4.7 million in WRRSP funds were awarded to the City of Aurora to purchase the golf course and implement the project, which includes wetlands protection, dam removal, riverbank restoration and other related work.

Q: Where did the money for this project come from?

A: The money comes from the WRRSP allotment within the WPCLF revolving loan program.  A WPCLF applicant can choose to sponsor one or more WRRSP projects.  The WPCLF advances a portion of the interest that normally would be repaid over the life of the sponsoring loan to the WRRSP project.  The applicant also receives a one-tenth of one percent (0.001) reduction in its typical WPCLF interest rate for sponsoring the WRRSP project.

While government functions at all levels are essentially paid for through some sort of taxes or fees, WPCLF (and WRRSP) monies do not come directly from state or federal taxes; rather, the WPCLF and other state revolving funds received “capitalization” money from the federal government starting in the 1990s and provided their own state matches to start up the state revolving fund programs.  Since that time, federal capitalization has continued, albeit at a reduced rate, but the majority of the funds are now generated from loan repayments and “leveraging” of the fund, as needed.  Thus, most WRRSP and other WPCLF monies are truly “recycled,” using the same money over and over (hence the name revolving loan fund), as opposed to relying on direct federal tax dollars for funding.  No state tax dollars are involved in funding these programs.

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