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MSD Board To Consider Smoketown Basin Redesign Monday

The basin, under construction.
J. Tyler Franklin
The basin, under construction.

The Metropolitan Sewer District's Board is expected today to consider whether plans for an overflow storage basin in the Smoketown neighborhood should be changed.

MSD is planning a dozen large storage basins across the city. It’s part of the district’s $850 million consent decree with the federal government, designed to keep rainwater from filling the sewers and overflowing into the area’s rivers and streams.

The district began planning the Smoketown basin first. But later it emerged that the Smoketown project was the only basin that wouldn’t be buried under a park or green space. Rather, the plans were to build a large, brick, windowless building on the site, which is in a part of the neighborhood with a mix of residential and industrial structures.

But as residents learned about the plans, opposition began to mount. The project was called out for treating the residents of Smoketown — a largely minority and low-income community — differently than other, more affluent areas of the city.

Last week, responding to pressure, MSD Director Tony Parrott and Mayor Greg Fischer announced the district would seek permission to redesign the basin and bury it under a park.

Smoketown Neighborhood Association Secretary Jessica Bellamy has been active in the effort to change the project's design.

“There’s absolutely no reason for this structure to be above ground,” she said. “If you’re going to put some eyesore that’s literally like a boundary — it segregates Smoketown from neighboring communities as well as continues to decrease property values in our neighborhood — there needs to be community input. It should actually be an alignment with the community’s vision of itself.”

MSD spokesman Steve Tedder said at its meeting Monday, MSD would ask the board to authorize staff to negotiate a change with Walsh Construction, which is already building the basin.

Tedder said most of the discussion would take place in closed session, out of view from the public, because of potential litigation. If the board gives its approval, MSD and Walsh would negotiate the specifics — budget, timeline, plans — of what it will take to bury the catch basin underground. Then, the board would have to weigh in again to approve or deny the change.

The MSD board’s open session begins at 1 p.m. on Monday.