County defends sewer position

Editors note: The Ohio EPA sent Washington County a document dated Feb. 22, 2017, titled Director’s Final Findings and Orders. Also, the Marietta Times reported March 11, 2017, that nitrate levels are declining in Devola water.

It was disappointing to see the city of Marietta once again resort to the pages of the Marietta Times rather than work with the county commissioners located less than a block away. It was even more disappointing to see the Marietta Times report opinions as facts without any attempt to get the county’s perspective on this matter.

First and foremost, it must be noted that the county has requested to meet with city on multiple occasions to attempt to resolve this dispute without wasting taxpayer dollars. The county first invited the city to discuss this issue in April 2014. It took the city six months to respond, and another three months to finally set up a meeting. Additionally, the city rebuffed county efforts to mediate this dispute. Most egregiously, to date the city of Marietta has yet to send the county one bill for its alleged damages, but it has spent $77,821.25 in outside legal fees to threaten the county. That $77,821.25 of taxpayer dollars has led to “one” threatening letter and “one” Op-Ed piece in the Marietta Times. While the city law director expends valuable tax dollars on outside law firms, the county has not spent one penny of taxpayer funds on this issue to date.

Second, while the county extended multiple good faith offers to resolve this dispute amicably, the city refusing to work in good faith, argued its case in the pages of the Marietta Times. The June 5, 2015, July 11, 2015, Oct. 19, 2016, and Oct. 22, 2016 articles, and the most recent “story” of April 27, 2017, all gave one sided views of the city’s position.

Even more disappointing is that the “facts” reported in the Marietta Times are simply wrong. First, the county could not appeal because there was no final appealable order to appeal. The county requested that Ohio EPA come and speak with the residents of Washington County, that it provide more explanation and data to support its findings, and that it provide a more flexible timeline for implementation if the EPA could produce more comprehensive data showing that sewering was necessary. The Ohio EPA opted to ignore these requests, and instead referred the matter to the Attorney General’s Office. Second, the Marietta Times fails to mention that the data that does exist shows that nitrate levels are actually declining in Devola. Nitrates are a naturally occurring inorganic compound that results from the combination of nitrogen and oxygen. Severely high levels of nitrates in drinking water can be unsafe to pregnant women, elderly and infants, but they are not dangerous to the general public. Nitrates are naturally occurring in ground and surface water, and the EPA has yet to provide any direct evidence that the nitrate levels are directly caused by “failing septic systems” rather than other factors or a combination thereof. The Putnam Water Association closely monitors the levels of many substances in the drinking water and supplies clean and safe drinking water to the residents. The Putnam Water Association used a simple filter to remove nitrates from well water at a cost of just over $2 million in 2013. This has obviously had a positive impact on the nitrate levels in the groundwater as well. The Ohio EPA is unfortunately apparently uninterested in considering such economically reasonable solutions to reducing the current nitrate levels.

Third, the Marietta Times fails to note that the city’s attorney has yet to provide the county the documentation that it requested to support its alleged damages in this matter. The city has offered no explanation as to why the capital costs for the project increased from the capped $25 million to now $30 million, and it has provided no documentation to the county for its alleged $16.1 million in damages. The county cannot responsibly write a check to the city for $16.1 million based upon just the city’s estimates.

Despite the rhetoric, everyday families still choose to relocate to Devola. In America people still vote with their feet and as residents flee the city and its onerous regulations they still find haven in neighborhoods like Devola.

This is simply an effort by the city to force more rate payers onto its system.

This is about money — your money. Nothing more — nothing less.

Ron Feathers is board chairman of the Washington County Commissioners.