Sewer fight dominates commissioners’ race

Candidates have their own views on when and how the issue will be resolved

With four county commissioner candidates to pick from in this year’s election cycle, planned action in the Devola sewer debate could change.

It’s a multi-faceted issue that has brought about two current lawsuits against current commissioners for not following Ohio Environmental Protection Agency orders, and not honoring a contract made with the city of Marietta.

But whomever the voting populace chooses, the newest member of the trio could either stay the course of resistance or choose to reopen talks with the state and city and move forward on sewering.

Outgoing commissioner Rick Walters was the decisive vote on Jan. 22 to pit the county against the state, joining Commissioner Ron Feathers and going against the opinion of Commissioner David White.

The offer that vote denied was to sewer residences on Lawton Road by 2020 and the rest of Devola homes by 2025, what was said to be a last offer from the Ohio EPA.

If an individual is elected that is more amenable to renegotiation that fight could lose its steam.

Kevin Ritter, of Marietta, one of the three Republican candidates vying for the seat, said he wants more data before deciding between the health of county residents and their control of personal property.

“It’s not a simple yes or no to do we sewer,” said Ritter. “I really want to be educated in the issue and I want to make sure property rights are respected. If there’s a health hazard, if the EPA can come back down and do a study to the satisfaction of the voters that proves there is indeed a health hazard then I will be an advocate for sewer. But our own Washington County health commissioner says we don’t have a health hazard. I need more information and as an elected official I would then try to represent all of the people of the county and base my decision on the health of the residents.”

Ritter said his first action if elected would be to reopen talks with city officials and with state officials to try and remedy the issues outside of the judicial system.

Ritter’s opponents also weighed in on the issue Friday.

Republican Ray Witten, of Marietta, said he believed the residents of the county were not informed fairly or honestly in the initial discussions to sewer and that the current commissioners have dropped the ball on available financing for the project.

“If I am elected I do have a plan to address their financial burden, but I won’t share that now until I’m elected,” he said. “What I will say is I will keep the residents more informed. I would like to see more testing to see if there is indeed a hazard. I’m all for health rules and regulations but more testing needs to be done.”

He said in the legal battles the county commissioners face he would represent not only Devola but the entire county.

“I don’t think it’s smart to go to war with the city, EPA and attorney general’s office,” he added. “If you’re looking for help that’s not the way to do it.

Republican Jeremy Barton said he believes the issue with the state will be decided before he takes office and looking at how contracts, studies and previous communications failed is now futile.

“It needs to move forward,” he said. “The time for looking back is over. It’s in the court of law and it has to be settled there. Whatever the judge says, that’s what I would follow. Anything else I say or anybody else says is speculation.”

Barton, Witten and Ritter will all appear on the May 8 primary ballot for Republican voters and the victor of that race will face off against Democratic Candidate James Raney in the November general election.

Raney said from his readings of the documents filed in the two cases that he sees reason to listen to legal counsel and possibly reopen talks with the city and state.

“If I were elected to commissioner I would be sworn to uphold the constitution, the statutes of the state and other laws and I would listen to the legal advice and make the best decision I believed could be made for the county as a whole,” said Raney. “I don’t see how the (current) commissioners have a case. I’m not a lawyer but I have read through all of the legal documents filed and the public records of the studies. If I were a betting man I’d think they would be hit with damages and fees and still be instructed to sewer.”

The case between the state and county commissioners has further progressed since the last report by the Times when the Ohio Attorney General’s Office officially filed the lawsuit against the commissioners on March 2.

On March 29 the commissioners filed a counterclaim, answer and affirmative defenses to the state’s call for injunctive relief and civil penalties.

Then on Thursday a retired judge from Perry County was appointed to preside over the state’s case against the commissioners.

Linton D. Lewis will preside in the case as proceedings continue in Washington County Common Pleas Court this year.

At a glance

¯ The Washington County Commissioner’s race this election cycle may impact how the sewer disputes between current commissioners and the state and commissioners versus the city progress.

¯ With a new commissioner in place, negotiations may reopen.

¯ The current commissioners also recently filed a counterclaim, answer and affirmative defenses to the state’s call for injunctive relief and civil penalties.

¯ A retired judge from Perry County, Linton D. Lewis will preside in the case as proceedings continue in Washington County Common Pleas Court this year.

Sources: Times research.