County caught off guard by court decision on sewer project

Judge tells county to comply with EPA order

A summary judgment in Washington County Common Pleas court ordering the county commission to proceed with installation of a sanitary sewer system in Devola caught the county by surprise.

The decision was issued Thursday by Judge Linton D. Lewis, Jr., a retired Perry County judge appointed to oversee the case. In his reasons for judgment, Lewis stated that a summary judgment is called for when no genuine issues of material fact remain to be litigated, the moving party – in this case, the state – is entitled to judgment, and “reasonable minds can come but to one conclusion that is adverse to the party against whom the motion is made,” which in this case is the county.

The case dates back to 2010 when the county was directed to remedy an excess of nitrates in the community water supply. The following year, the Ohio EPA determined that inadequate or failing septic systems were the source of the water contamination and issued a directive to correct it.

A plan was approved in 2013 for installation of sanitary sewerage in Devola with a completion of date of January 2015 set.

The project was never started.

The Washington County commissioners expressed surprise at the judgment on Friday. On Monday, the county’s legal counsel, Nicole Coil, said she had not been aware of it until reading an article in The Marietta Times over the weekend.

“I will meet with the commissioners this, and it’s yet to be determined what we will do,” she said. “It’s an appealable decision.”

Commissioner Ron Feathers said in a voice mail left for The Times Monday that he was unable to comment.

“We haven’t been able to discuss this with our attorney. We’re trying to set up a meeting this week where we all four can get together and discuss what our next move is. There’s nothing I can say at this point,” Feathers said.

Kevin Ritter, incoming commissioner who will take office in January, said he had not read the decision and was not willing to comment.

Reaction of residents contacted by The Times was mixed.

George Bazinger, who live on Lawton Road in Devola, said he considered the decision inevitable.

“The sooner we acknowledge that inevitability, the less it will cost,” Bazinger said. “I wish they had decided to do this in 2010 when it was a lot less expensive. The best thing now is to acknowledge the decision and proceed with it. It ‘s the healthiest thing to do for the community, and for Ohio waters, just to get on with it.”

Bazinger said he lives across the street from the last house that was attached to the sewer system in a previous project.

He added that converting from septic to sewer will increase property values.

“Those who anticipate selling can anticipate getting a better price,” he said.

Karen Weisand and her husband Lee Weisand live on Marshall Road

“We really figured it would come down to this,” she said Monday. “We know a lot of people on fixed incomes that are very, very concerned about the cost.”

Ralph Russell, who lives on Keeler Street, is one of them.

“I don’t think it’s fair, we’re probably going to lose our house over this,” Russell said, adding that he doesn’t believe the state has produced convincing evidence that the septic systems are the problem.

“Devola used to be an affluent area, but now it’s mostly people on fixed incomes. My wife and I are on Social Security, and the added taxes are going to kill us. We’ll have to dig in our pockets for $15,000 to $18,000 to hook up to the line, and we won’t be able to do that,” he said. “I don’t know what’s going to happen. This is going to be a very difficult situation for many people in Devola, they will have to change their lifestyles.”

The summary judgment did not specify a timeline for the Devola project, only directing the county to “immediately comply with the EPA’s final finding and orders by submitting a general plan for construction” and, upon approval by the EPA of that plan, to build a sewer system “for the entire Devola area.”

The county also faces a separate lawsuit regarding sewering, filed by the city of Marietta in December 2017 for an alleged breach of the 2011 contract to provide sewerage service to Devola and Oak Grove.

The city upgraded its wastewater treatment plant in order to accommodate Muskingum Township residents, but the sewering was not completed.