Lawton Road residents prepare to sewer

Devola street would be the first to be required to add service

JANELLE PATTERSON The Marietta Times Carlos Graham, left, Judy Foust, center, and Edith Newman, right, discuss concerns over sewer and septic in Graham's home on Lawton Road, in Devola, Monday.

Lawton Road residents are still waiting with bated breath to hear if they will have to sewer by 2020.

“I’m just kind of ready for it to happen, it’s just a matter of time,” said Jennifer Mackey, a resident of Lawton Road who has been in her home for the last 15 years. “I went to a couple of meetings at first but I really feel it’s OK if we do go on to it.”

The 2020 deadline was the last direction the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency gave the Washington County Commissioners this year before filing suit against the county for noncompliance with orders to sewer.

The direction was to sewer Lawton Road residences by 2020, approximately 62 homes, and the remainder of the Muskingum Township suburb by 2025. The commissioners in a 2-1 vote, refused the compromise on January 22 and so the state filed suit March 2.

Mackey and her sister Judy Foust talked with their parents Carlos and Anna Graham, who live across the road from Mackey, and the Graham’s neighbor Edith Newman about the sewer dispute Tuesday and seemed to have more questions than answers.

“I’m definitely against it,” said Newman as the discussion continued about water table contamination, reportedly healthy septic systems and questions over costs.

Newman said she doesn’t believe the scientific studies conducted by the Ohio EPA in 2010 and 2016, and says that her septic system, the Grahams’ and Mackeys’ had all been tested by the Washington County Health Department and were safe.

But Mackey and the Grahams are more or less resigned to the belief that they’ll be forced to sewer, they said, but they wish funding planning would be pursued and explained by officials so they can prepare for the event.

“And what happens to the families that truly can’t afford any more assessment on their property taxes?” asked Foust, who while she lives in Mineral Wells, is worried about the financial impact on her parents.

The lawsuit regarding sewering is before Linton D. Lewis, a retired Perry County judge appointed by the Ohio Supreme Court to oversee the case and a connected case against the commissioners by Marietta city officials for a breach of contract to sewer both Devola and Oak Grove by the end of 2016.

Mackey said her only concern is retaining the independence from the city proper, namely staying under the jurisdiction of Muskingum Township and not having to pay additional taxes as a city resident.

“We’ve got our own community out here and even with the soccer field behind us it still feels like you’re in the country, it’s so peaceful,” she said. “I’m worried about (the city) annexing. I want to keep our community.”

In the initial contract signed between Washington County Commissioners and Marietta administration on May 12, 2011, Section IV where the city and county mutual agreements are outlined, Subsection I states: “City shall not required annexation of any areas of Washington County that may be served under the terms hereof as a requirement for the fulfillment of its obligations under this agreement.

Andrea and Adam Eichorn, who have lived on Lawton Road for the last four years, knew sewering may be a possibility when they bought their home but moved out to the township to raise their young family.

“We have a perfectly fine septic system that was put in a little before we moved,” said Andrea as the pair fed their 2-year-old daughter dinner Monday. “I feel like if we upkeep our septic we shouldn’t have to sewer.”

Adam added that the waiting game as the commissioners are back in mediation with the city and the trial date for the Ohio EPA’s case is pushed off until the middle of 2019, is more frustrating than simply having a straight direction.

“I’d like to know the real timeline and costs so we can determine if we need to plan for it financially, the unknown drives you nuts,” he said.

But he said he is also is concerned with the science behind the Ohio EPA’s 2012 orders to the commissioners to sewer Devola.

Originally, at the request of the Putnam Community Water Association, the Ohio EPA conducted geoprobe borings in 16 places in August 2010 in the area between the meandering bend of the Muskingum River.

“The big thing for us is there’s nothing definite to prove the contamination isn’t coming more from the agricultural areas,” said Adam.

Ground water samples from those borings, located above and blow the dam, and in agricultural, septic and sewered areas of the community, ultimately produced varied nitrate and chloride concentration results, pointing to septic concerns.

“The nitrate concentrations in boring samples demonstrate distinct differences the agricultural (non-detect to 9.6 mg/L), unsewered (4.57-12.9 mg/L), and sewered ares (0.31-5.63 mg/L),” states the findings in the “Unsafe Water Investigation” report published by the Ohio EPA. “Overall, the nitrate concentrations are significantly higher in the unsewered area than in the agricultural area to the west or the sewered area to the east…The highest values of chlorides in the water table samples and total depth samples occur in the unsewered area. Concentrations in the unsewered area are 2-4 times the values in the sewered area and 3-5 or more times the values in the agricultural area.

Ultimately the Ohio EPA said 2016 studies of the water table below the unsewered portions of Devola confirmed these findings and still required the county to sewer the neighborhood.

George Banziger, a resident at the end of the road, said despite inflated estimates, and concerns over the additional costs to crush or fill in old septic systems when the area is sewered, he believes the issue is moot.

“Houses around the corner that are for sale and already on sewer market that, my wife and I think it would be a benefit to the property values,” he said Tuesday. “And the cost to property taxes.. well, we moved here in 2010 from Illinois and our house value here is about twice as much as the one in Illinois but our property tax is half of what we paid there.”

Regardless of the outcome, or whether some families chose to move from the community, there are those like the Eichorns who plan to wait out the storm.

“We moved out here for the quiet of the community and the park,” said Adam. “We knew the issue of the sewer was a possibility, but this is a long-term home for us.”

At a glance:

• Devola residents still don’t have answers from Washington County Common Pleas Court or commissioners on if and/or when the area would be sewered.

• Estimates for the cost to sewer the area range from $816 per household per year to thousands in upfront costs.

• Results from the 2010 and 2016 studies by the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency on Devola are available for public viewing at bit.ly/DevolaUnsewered.

Source: Times research.

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