After more than five years of debate, discussions, and consensus-building, the Illinois EPA this Spring proposed fundamental reforms to the way the state oversees new sewer line extensions. The proposal would protect clean rivers and streams in fast-growing areas, help protect prime farmland from sprawl, and help local governments plan for the future.
The proposal was authorized by legislation that passed without controversy in 2002. Since then, the Blagojevich administration has done a painstaking job of consulting with any and all interested stakeholders. The end product is a proposal that makes simple improvements to a process that has been in place for decades.
Before a growing community gets approval to extend sewer lines for new development, Illinois EPA would consider where the new sewage would go, and what it would do to the river or stream it ended up in. This kind of analysis is required later in the process before opening a new wastewater plant, but doing it at the sewer planning stage will simply give a town more time to plan growth to protect clean water. Also, Illinois EPA would consider whether the area getting sewer service is designated to be protected as farmland, or whether developing it would hurt another community's plans.
Tomorrow is scheduled to be the final step in a long approval process for the proposal, but developers who don't want to worry about what sprawl might do to water quality or prime farmland are waging an all-out effort to kill the proposal at the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules of the General Assembly. The Committee, known as JCAR, must approve all state agency rules before they are final.
If legislators buckle to the clout-heavy developers, Illinois EPA will have to go back to the drawing board to salvage the proposal. Stay tuned.