City, county lawyers to meet about settlement

County moving forward on sewering Devola

With court orders to sewer Devola accepted, legal counsel for both the Washington County Commissioners and Marietta City Council are moving forward to settle the city’s case against the commissioners.

The city still has open litigation against the county commissioners and county health board for a breach of a 40-year contract to sewer both Devola and Oak Grove by the end of December 2016 and remain connected through at least 2051, with an automatic renewal for service every 20 years unless terminated in the final five years of each renewal period.

But as the Washington County Commissioners begin a plan to follow Ohio Environmental Protection Agency orders to sewer Devola, pursuing funding options with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and other state and federal granting agencies, Washington County Engineer Roger Wright said last week that the soonest the county could have infrastructure in place to sewer Devola would be a year and a half, with the connection of homes to follow.

“But that would be the most expensive way,” Wright noted, citing mechanisms and rights of way to be obtained based off of the original plan to bring the estimated 320 Devola homes online and connected to existing sewer infrastructure available.

But, he said, less expensive options utilizing gravity flow and potential grants would take more time to flesh out.

Washington County Assistant Prosecutor Nicole Coil said Wednesday that official correspondence between her and City Law Director Paul Bertram has continued since the commissioners’ acceptance of court orders to sewer Devola, but that the ball is in the city’s court on whether or not to accept a settlement offer made during mediation on Oct. 23.

“I can’t state what it is,” she said of the offer, citing mediation rules. “But I can tell you that I recently sent Paul Bertram a letter indicating that we are not intending to build Devola its own plant but rather intend to connect that area to Marietta’s existing sewer.”

Bertram said Wednesday that he received the letter from Coil Tuesday and is drafting a response with the aim to have counsel sit and go over a counter offer.

“There will be an offer coming back to them,” he noted.

“We’re also going to try and get our county and their city engineer hooked up to get together a more informed plan of how we’re going to get Devola hooked in,” added Coil.

Meanwhile, Coil said she intends to file a response by Jan. 18 in the city’s most recent refiling of the breach of contract against the commissioners and complaint against the board of health for not enforcing state health statutes.

“We’ve refiled but with Mr. Bertram as the main attorney in this case,” explained co-counsel Matthew Dooley, who has been representing the city in the matter since he was hired by authorization of Marietta City Council on Oct. 20, 2016. “The court’s rulings on the original case both against the commissioners and the board of health were only ever procedural in not having Mr. Bertram named and not on the merits of the case itself.”

In the filing the city asks that the court’s appointed judge, Linton B. Lewis, rule to enforce the contract, hold the board of health accountable for not protecting the health of residents of Washington County downstream of Devola and Oak Grove from contaminated groundwater risks, and/or impose a payment for damages to the city for the county’s inaction including approximately 16 million in administrative and operating costs and the 11.7 percent of the capital cost to renovate the plant.

Commissioners Ron Feathers and David White did not return calls for comment. Commissioner Kevin Ritter referred questions concerning the issue to Coil Wednesday.

At a glance:

• Washington County Commissioners intend to sewer Devola and connect that portion of Muskingum Township to Marietta’s sewer system.

• Marietta and Washington County legal counsel plan to meet in coming weeks to discuss a settlement of the city’s lawsuit against the county for not sewering Devola and Oak Grove by December 2016.

Source: Times research.