Devola sewer issues addressed

In spite of recent concerns expressed by Devola area residents, the city of Marietta isn’t making a profit from sewerage being piped from that area into Marietta’s wastewater treatment plant, and city officials say there are no plans for annexation of Devola.

Muskingum Township Trustee Gary Doan, who has sat in on meetings pertaining to plans to expand the city sewerage collection system in Devola, said some residents aren’t happy about having to send the wastewater to Marietta.

“I’ve heard several people mention that this is just Marietta making money off of Devola, and the next step will be annexation,” he said. “Many are on fixed incomes and are worried about the increased cost of living. And one major concern came from an (Ohio Environmental Protection Agency) official who said it could cost around $17,000 per household for people to tie into the proposed sewer system.”

But city officials say Marietta is not making a profit from Devola sewer customers.

“Devola residents pay the same sewer rate as our city customers, and no one is talking about annexation,” said Marietta Councilman Mike McCauley, D-2nd Ward, who chairs council’s water, sewer and sanitation committee.

The current wastewater rate, based on 3,750 gallons or 500 cubic feet of usage, is $33.20 every two months charged by the city for both Marietta and Devola customers.

Marietta assistant safety-service director Bill Dauber noted that Washington County collects the sewer bills from Devola customers and pays the city one lump sum for the service to Devola every two months.

Commissioner Ron Feathers said the county does add some of its own fees to the basic sewer bills to cover maintenance and other services. He said that increases the amount paid for sewer service to $56 for Devola customers.

“Part of that amount goes for maintenance and upgrades, two wastewater employees, and debt service,” he said.

About 350 Devola residents were tied into the Marietta sewer system more than a year ago after problems developed in Devola’s 30-year-old package plant. That tie-in was the first of two phases planned for handling the area’s wastewater.

The second phase, now on hold, would develop new wastewater infrastructure for Devola neighborhoods and bring another 400 households, currently on septic systems, into the Marietta sewer system.

“If Devola goes online with the additional sewer service, the amount customers pay to the county would increase to $70 per billing cycle,” Feathers said.

He noted the project to build more lines in Devola is being driven by the Ohio EPA, which wants all Devola households currently served by septic systems to tie into the new lines that would carry all of the area’s sewerage to Marietta’s wastewater treatment plant.

“But we’re trying to find out if those people really need this sewer system,” Feathers added. “They feel the Ohio EPA is forcing them into tying into a system they don’t need. We’re all for increasing infrastructure if it’s needed. But everyone may not need that.”

Hundreds of Devola residents recently signed up to have their septic systems inspected by the county health department in an effort to show the Ohio EPA that the systems are operating and maintained properly and do not have to be replaced by a new sewer system.

The original 350 Devola households currently being served by the Marietta wastewater plant were tied into the city system during the first phase of a three-phase complete upgrade of the city’s wastewater facilities that’s estimated to cost around $20 million.

Before that project began in 2011 the county and city entered into an intergovernmental agreement so that the wastewater plant upgrade design would include additional capacity to handle wastewater for customers outside the city, including the Devola, Oak Grove and Reno areas.

“The county is paying 11.6 percent of the total upgrade cost,” Feathers said.

McCauley said the Ohio EPA was also the driving force behind the city and county agreement.

“The EPA doesn’t want a lot of smaller package treatment plants throughout the state, so they’ve encouraged the county and city to do this because it’s more efficient,” he said.

Marietta law director Paul Bertram III said the plant upgrade project could have been built without the intergovernmental agreement, but it would have been a smaller design.

He said plans for the agreement began in 2004, and culminated in a document developed by former law director Roland Riggs III and county prosecutor Jim Schneider.

“It had nothing to do with Marietta making a profit from Devola customers and it had nothing to do with annexation,” he said.