Three groups are appealing the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency’s approval of a permit that allows Plain City to discharge more wastewater from its treatment plant into the Big Darby Creek.
The Ohio Environmental Council, Center for Biological Diversity, and Darby Creek Association say they are appealing to the Environmental Review Appeals Commission because such an increase will damage the creek and the environmentally sensitive wildlife inhabiting it, including fish and mussels.
“This isn’t any appeal. This isn’t just any stream. It’s one of the most important streams in the Midwest right in our backyard,” said Nathan Johnson, public lands director for the Ohio Environmental Council.
The permit, approved by the Ohio EPA in October, allows Plain City’s wastewater treatment plant to double its daily capacity from 750,000 gallons to 1.5 million gallons. The Ohio EPA said then that the permit includes conditions to ensure the Big Darby’s water quality is maintained and that aquatic habitat and mussels are protected.
At the time, Ohio EPA spokesman Anthony Chenault said that while Plain City can increase the wastewater volume under the new permit, the amount of pollutants allowed are to remain at the levels that were authorized under the old permit.
In a statement Friday, Chenault said that Ohio EPA is aware of the appeal to the Environmental Review Appeals Commission. “All Ohio EPA permits are written to be protective of human health and the environment,” he said.
But environmentalists said the permit doesn’t supply enough protections for the creek. For example, Johnson said there are no water sampling or testing requirements to protect mussels.
“The agency needs to include better monitoring and protection for species,” Johnson said.
“They come up short there.”
John Tetzloff, president of the Darby Creek Association, said the Ohio EPA isn’t considering storm water runoff that will come with more development and the impact on federally endangered mussels.
“We’re at a pivot point here, Tetzloff said. The creek is already degraded, he said, and it will be impossible to bring back to where it needs to be under this permit.
In a statement the Ohio Environmental Council released, Will Harlan, biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity, said: “The endangered mussels in Big Darby Creek are dying and headed toward extinction. Mussels are nature’s wastewater treatment plants, filtering out pollutants and cleaning our rivers for free. They once lined the banks of Big Darby Creek for miles; Now only a few small populations remain. Fish are also threatened: a catfish only found in the Big Darby Creek watershed was recently declared extinct. Big Darby’s fish and mussels need less pollution and more protection.”
The expanded wastewater plant will be able to accommodate developers who want to build in the growing the Plain City area, which is not beholden to the guidelines of the Big Darby Accord that communities that signed off on in 2006. That limits development in the Franklin County portion of the watershed.
Environmentalists would like to see something similar to the Accord in other parts of the watershed.
“This is going to lower existing water quality,” Johnson said of the permit. “It’s something we take very seriously,” Johnson said.