City, county may revisit sewage MOU

An intergovernmental agreement that resulted in the design of Marietta’s wastewater treatment plant being expanded was a topic of discussion during Wednesday’s meeting of Marietta City Council’s water, sewer and sanitation committee.

In May 2011 the Washington County Commissioners inked a memorandum of understanding with the city of Marietta that the city’s wastewater treatment plant upgrade would be designed with enough additional capacity to handle sewage from Devola and other areas outside the city limits.

“We increased the design by 11 percent and entered into a 40-year intergovernmental agreement with the county to handle the additional flow,” said Marietta city engineer Joe Tucker.

That agreement was signed by the former county commission that included Commissioners Tim Irvine, Cora Marshall, and Steve Weber, and is binding on future commissioners and city councils, according to city water, sewer and sanitation committee chairman Mike McCauley, D-2nd Ward.

“The county is basically taking a line from their sewer plant at Devola into the city system, and we meter that (discharge) and charge the Devola customers the same as our own city customers for the service, including any rate increases that our city customers may have to pay,” McCauley said.

But Councilman Tom Vukovic, D-4th Ward, said he’s concerned about a letter sent to the city in April by current Washington County Commission President Ron Feathers, requesting a meeting between the commissioners and city council members to review the memorandum of understanding and consider developing a new intergovernmental agreement.

“The MOU formed a template to resolve what at the time appeared to be an imminent crisis,” Feathers wrote. “In response to that perceived crisis, the MOU had a very aggressive timeline for bringing city sewer to Devola, Reno, and Oak Grove. The MOU also made several assumptions regarding financing, engineering and health risks.”

“We know now the timelines originally established in the MOU were too aggressive and unrealistic. We also know that the means of financing and engineering were not fully developed,” he continued. “Traditionally, in projects of this magnitude, an investment banker and bond counsel are consulted on the feasibility of financing, and engineering firms submit proposals for cost and scope of work. Only after all of that is complete is the MOU finally signed.”

Feathers noted that the previous county administration also moved quickly because of reports that high levels of nitrates in the Devola ground and drinking water were being caused by failing residential septic systems.

“Our (county) health department has since conducted more thorough testing and we know now that the causes of elevated levels of nitrates cannot be solely associated with on-lot septic systems,” he wrote. “Furthermore, I am currently speaking with the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency. I am assured by representatives of the Ohio EPA that they will work with us in developing a plan moving forward.”

Feathers added that he believes it’s crucial that the city and county work together to formulate a more accurate agreement and “present a united plan to the state and to our citizens.”

Vukovic said Wednesday that he hoped that letter does not mean the county wants to back out of the intergovernmental agreement signed in 2011.

“We’ve increased our debt limit for this project and made an agreement with the county for this treatment plant project,” Vukovic said. “I certainly hope (the commissioners) will continue to provide the customer base we need to help pay for this project.”

Tucker said the intergovernmental agreement was not entered into lightly.

“We worked with the commissioners at that time to determine the best option would be for the county,” he said. “And the county commissioners independently arrived at the conclusion that it would be better to connect into the city’s system than to build their own water treatment facilities.”

Vukovic added that city council did everything it could to accommodate the county commissioners in their decision to tie into the city wastewater treatment system.

Tucker said there had been several meetings with the commissioners and county engineer who all took a close look at the proposed intergovernmental agreement before it was signed.

He noted the city law director a the time, Roland Riggs III, spent months working on the agreement, then had an outside law firm review the document before the two parties signed it.

“It was the most extensive agreement document I’ve ever worked on,” Tucker said.

McCauley said so far there has been no meeting with the commissioners to discuss Feathers’ proposal.

Feathers was not available for comment Wednesday afternoon.