Fayette County

Judge says EPA, city must renegotiate sewer penalty

Lexington and the Environmental Protection Agency must renegotiate the $425,000 civil penalty in the city's sweeping sewer settlement, a federal judge ruled Thursday.

And Scott White, an attorney for the Fayette County Neighborhood Council, said he plans to ask the judge to allow the neighborhood council to take part in those negotiations.

In August, U.S. District Judge Karl Forester rejected the city's agreement with the EPA because he thought the penalty was too high. Current residents, he wrote, "should not be severely penalized for longstanding neglect" by city officials.

The federal government had asked Forester to reconsider.

The consent decree, as the sewer settlement is known, is not official until Forester approves it. City officials say, however, that they are carrying out the terms of the agreement as if it were in place.

The agreement requires Lexington to spend $250 million to $300 million over the next dozen years to correct longstanding problems that result in sanitary and storm sewage polluting streams in violation of the Clean Water Act.

The neighborhood council and a couple of citizens who commented on the agreement argued that at least some of the money going to federal coffers as a fine should instead be spent on fixing the problems. Forester agreed and said the fine should be renegotiated.

White said he will ask the judge Monday to allow the neighborhood group into those negotiations.

The group took part in early negotiations that started late in 2006, but it was "disinvited" by the city in spring 2007.

Forester ruled in July 2007 that the group had no legal right to "a seat at the table" in those talks.