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Government, Politics & Issues

Feds Order Cahokia Heights To Fix Its Ongoing Sewage System Problems

What appears to be raw sewage and storm water are being pumped out of a pipe in the 200 block of North 82nd Street in Centreville. Neighbors complain about the stench when the temperatures are warm. Tampons, toilet paper and other items can be seen 020420
Derik Holtzmann | Belleville News-Democrat
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What appears to be raw sewage and storm water are being pumped out of a pipe in the 200 block of North 82nd Street in Centreville. Neighbors complain about the stench when the temperatures are warm. Tampons, toilet paper and other items can be seen 020420

The United States Environmental Protection Agency issued an order on Monday requiring Cahokia Heights to take steps to alleviate problems with the city’s poor sewage infrastructure.

The order mandates the city to submit plans to control sanitary sewer overflows, which can cause water to back up in residents’ homes and yards. Since Jan. 26, at least 28 sewer overflows have occurred in the area, according to Monday’s announcement from the agency.

“This order will assist the city in focusing on identifying the most urgent needs for repair of the sewer system in order to protect the public’s health,” said U.S. EPA Region 5 Administrator Cheryl Newton in the release. “This order is an important step towards resolving these long-standing sewer problems for the Cahokia Heights community. I appreciate the new city’s willingness to work to resolve these long-standing sewer problems for the community.”

Cahokia Heights Mayor Curtis McCall Sr. said Monday he was unaware of the order, but that the city will work with the agency to fix the problems.

The order specifically requires the city to train sewer staff on inspections, develop a routine and inspection and maintenance plan for lift stations and create a plan to address complaints and work orders.

Additionally, the order requires the city to develop and submit sanitary system overflow plans to the U.S. EPA, in an effort to eliminate overflows in the community. The city is also required to submit an updated “capacity, management, operation and maintenance” program to the U.S. EPA. The program helps sewer system operators properly manage wastewater collections in the city.

This is the second U.S. EPA order issued for Cahokia Heights this month. The first one, which was announced on Aug. 3, ordered the city to take immediate actions to prevent drinking-water contamination.

Residents in north Centreville, which is now a part of Cahokia Heights, have dealt with severe flooding and sewage problems for decades, with minimal help from local government. The issue has led to two lawsuits against the city and other local entities filed on behalf of residents. Centreville Citizens for Change, a local advocacy group comprised of residents, meet regularly to discuss plans for bringing more attention to the issue.

Yvette Lyles, a member of the group, said that while she applauds the EPA for issuing another order, she’s sad that it’s taken so long for actions to be made on residents’ behalf.

“If that’s what it takes to get what we need to take care of the citizens of this community so that we don’t have to deal with such issues any further, then I say all kudos to whatever has to be done to get things taken care of.

“Being a citizen in any area,--I don’t care if it’s here or anywhere else in the United States of America--the townships, the cities, the powers that be in charge, they need to do what they need to do to make sure that their citizens have everything they need to live comfortably.”

Lyles has lived in her North 62nd Street home for nearly 30 years. She has experienced flooding damages to her home from the beginning.

She blames the flooding for making her asthmatic. She said the last time water backed up in her home was in March, when it invaded the crawl space in her home.

“It almost feels as though this is some redemption to correct the horrendous problems that we’ve had to live under and the powers that be’s decisions...it’s kind of a bittersweet thing because our home and our lifestyles have been affected by these things,” Lyles said. “To see someone finally doing it because a group of citizens grew sick and tired of being sick and tired is nice.

“When citizens go to the officials, they should listen. We’re not going to come complaining. We’re coming with ‘Here’s the issue, what’s the resolution’.”

Mayor McCall has vowed to make fixing the area’s flooding issues his top priority. During his first mayoral press conference last month, he promised to use all of the city’s American Rescue Plan Act funds--roughly $2.8 million-- to address the problem.

McCall is the former Centreville Township supervisor who served as board chairman for Commonfields of Cahokia Public Water District, the utility that manages some of the area’s sewer system. McCall is listed as a defendant in a lawsuit filed last year on behalf of residents against Commonfields and local officials.

McCall said Monday the city will address any issues that the EPA finds. He said he signed off on the U.S. EPA’s previous order last week.

“I’m still going to work with them to the fullest,” McCall said about collaborating with the EPA. “I always look at this as a partnership, not as an order demanding that we do something. I look at it more as a problem that needs to be addressed and that will be addressed under my administration.”

For Lyles, receiving additional support from external agencies is a testament to residents’ persistence in not being overlooked.

“It’s been a lot of prayers and a lot of calls to get to this point, and I’m glad that we didn’t throw in the towel.”

DeAsia Paige is a reporter for the Belleville News-Democrat, a news partner of St. Louis Public Radio.

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