Sewer dispute mediation in August

Representatives of both the Washington County Commissioners and Marietta City Administration and Council are breaking open their August calendars in an effort to mediate the sewer dispute between the two parties.

The dispute is rooted in a 40-year contract which outlined city obligations to upgrade its wastewater treatment plant and add capacity to take on sewage flow from Devola and Oak Grove while requiring the commissioners to sewer those two communities in four phases.

Mediation would be the first face-to-face meeting to be held between the sides since a discussion ended in a standstill Aug. 19, 2015 between commissioners and council members at Lookout Park in Marietta.

Recently the city’s attorney on the matter, Matt Dooley, sent a letter to the commissioners seeking a decision on mediation or litigation by July 10. Washington County Assistant Prosecutor Nicole Coil replied Monday with the agreement to mediate and selected John Petro, of Columbus to act as the emissary between the two parties.

“Now we’re going to look for dates in August,” said Dooley.

The mediation to be scheduled will cover breaches on both sides of the 40-year Intergovernmental Agreement of May 2011 authorized by then-Washington County Commissioners Cora Marshall, Timothy Irvine and Steven Weber on the part of the county, and then-City Council members Kathy Shively, Jon Grimm, Mike McCauley, Harley Noland, Josh Schlicher and David White (now county commissioner).

The city’s plant is scheduled to have completed renovations per that agreement by the end of 2018, 30 years after the plant’s last upgrade and two years past outlines in the original agreement. However, only the first phase of sewering the two outlying communities, Devola Phase I, was ever sewered in March 2012, nine months ahead of schedule. Oak Grove Phase I, scheduled to be complete by December 2013, never came to fruition. Neither did the 440 customers outlined in Devola Phase II by December 2015 ever tie in nor did Oak Grove Phase II by December 2016.

“I’m hoping as we sit down and talk that these timelines are adjusted because nobody has met the full timeline,” said County Commissioner Rick Walters.

Commissioners have stated in the past that part of the reason Oak Grove plans never advanced was because of a more immediate need noted by the Ohio EPA to address high levels of nitrates found in the groundwater in Devola due to failing septic systems.

“I have no doubt in my mind that those areas will eventually be sewered,” said City Engineer Joe Tucker. “It’s a straightforward solution to an environmental problem, but both sides need to come to the table with a willingness to make some compromises.”

Coil estimated that the mediation would take more than one meeting between both parties on the long-disputed agreement and called for creativity from either side.

“We’re going to have to look at the whole picture and get creative as we explore the options,” she said. “Nothing is binding with mediation but (Petro) is going to help each see potential movement and common ground.”

One of the issues of greatest concern to residents is costs not covered by any potential long-term loan passed on to their property taxes if the commissioners pursue sewering the two areas.

“All the people in Devola cannot come up with the cost to tap into the sewer,” said Ed Russell, of Devola. “We don’t need it, we don’t need our property torn up and we don’t need the extra costs.”

The estimated costs from the county’s application to the Ohio Public Works Commission noted the coverage of not only the construction of the main lines but also the lateral lines to individual homes. That cost in the application comes out to $12,500 per home over 30 years, or $417 per year or $35 per month.

Russell said he’s concerned about costs not mentioned, including a tap fee and the cost to abandon his existing septic tank.

Josh Lane, director of environmental health for the Washington County Health Department, said county abandonment rules align with basic state laws.

“We don’t have an abandonment fee. We just want people to do it properly by having it pumped, crushed and filled or pumped and filled with peat,” said Lane. “If Devola is sewered they would be required to disconnect all the drains from their tank and reroute that to the line as well as properly abandon their tank.”

Lane said the average cost of pumping a septic tank in the county is between $200 and $240 but could not estimate the cost of crushing and filling a tank that had been abandoned.

“But people with septic tanks should be having their tank pumped every three years anyways,” he said. “I would imagine the market on pumping and crushing in this area will get pretty competitive depending on how this matter shakes out.”

At a glance

≤ June 28: Marietta City representatives reached out to the Washington County commissioners to decide on either mediation or litigation by July 10.

≤ July 10: Assistant County Prosecutor Nicole Coil replied with the county’s desire to mediate.

≤ August: Expected mediation between the county and city to take place.

Source: Times research.