More talks in sewer dispute up in the air

No resolution via mediation

Following a meeting for mediation between Washington County officials and representatives of the City of Marietta this week, further dispute resolution on the sewering of Devola and Oak Grove is up in the air.

Commissioner David White said he felt the meeting Tuesday was not productive, claiming the city’s representative, Matt Dooley, did not enter into mediation in good faith and with the intent to reach a compromise.

Dooley said the county’s legal position is “no different than a homeowner who says they don’t want to pay their mortgage anymore.”

“The county’s position is they don’t like the agreement that previous commissioners signed,” he said.

The dispute is founded on breaches from both parties with the Intergovernmental Agreement of 2011 that outlined a plan to not only upgrade the city’s wastewater treatment plant, but also add sewage flows from Devola and Oak Grove. The original timelines have long since been broken though renovation of the city plant continues and the first phase of sewering Devola was completed.

This meeting Tuesday was the first face-to-face interaction on the issue between the county and the city since Aug. 19, 2015. According to White, those present at the meeting held in Columbus included White, commissioners Ron Feathers and Rick Walters, Assistant Prosecutor Nicole Coil, County Engineer Roger Wright, and on the other side of the table City Engineer Joe Tucker, Wastewater Superintendent Steve Elliott and Dooley, the city’s lawyer on the matter.

Following the meeting Tuesday White posted a statement to Facebook saying the city sent no “decision makers” to the meeting or anyone with authority to compromise and negotiate.

“I stand corrected that he has the authority to negotiate,” White said on Wednesday of Dooley. “But he certainly didn’t come to the table willing to move…they wouldn’t talk money or any compensation we offered. All they told us was ‘do it now’ and talked about the timeline that’s long gone.”

Dooley, authorized last year by Marietta City Council to act as its representative and negotiator in the mediation and if the matter is taken before a judge, said he would have to confer with the city administration on whether any further negotiations could take place.

“It seems based on the county’s action that further mediation would not be productive,” Dooley said on Wednesday. “The city learned more about the county’s defenses to our claim and we continue to dispute the legitimacy of those…(though) we certainly came to compromise.”

Dooley would not say what he offered as compromise on behalf of the city due to mediation law outlining the confidentiality of mediation proceedings but White said the discussion surrounded an “unreasonable new timeline.”

“They were basically saying do it now. I’m not disputing that there was an agreement and we’re not disputing our share,” said White. “We were even willing to expedite capital outlay compensation. We understand that the project is costly and were willing to speed up the timeline of paying our 11.7 percent buy-in of that capital while we work on a reasonable timeline for sewering.”

White said with a little patience on behalf of the city, a mediation meeting Oct. 24 between the county and the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency through the Ohio Attorney General’s Office could help inform a new timeline for engineering plans, plans for acquiring easements and financing to next sewer Devola.

“My goal would be to incrementalize what’s left in Devola into three sections so that we can go after an (Ohio Public Works Commission) $400,000 grant for each section and go after low-interest loans as well,” said White.

White said he is hopeful that the city administration would be open to further discussions.

Meanwhile, Dooley said White posting opinions about discussions to Facebook were in violation of mediation statutes in Ohio.

“I was given no direction by the mediator other than that what was said during mediation could not be used in litigation,” said White.

What’s next

¯ The Washington County Commissioners will meet with the Ohio Attorney General’s Office Oct. 24 to mediate recent findings from the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency concerning nitrates in Devola’s drinking water.

Source: Washington County Commissioners.