Engineer’s son knows facts behind sewer dispute

My name is Joseph A. Helm III. My late father, Joseph A. Helm Jr., graduated from North Carolina State University in 1957 with a BS in Mechanical Engineering. Engineering remains a strong place in the country at N.C. State, but it was near the tops in the nation when my father graduated in 1957. He worked for Union Carbide Corporation for 35 years and retired in 1992 at the age of 62. He retired as the former head of Energy Systems and Environmental Control at the Sistersville, W.Va. Silicones plant. We would often talk about his work with the EPA at Union Carbide. He said it was a great big headache, because of all the paperwork that had to be processed working in this area. And he said it did not make any difference which party was in the White House, the EPA was always the boss. This was the way that President Nixon designed the system to fight years of neglect between big industry and the people to our sacred environment.

When we first moved to Marietta in 1973, it did not take long for Dad to become vice president of the Putnam Community Water Board. He used his education and life experiences growing up in a farm family to co-lead the board along with the President Dick Bergen. About 20 years ago the EPA approached the county commissioners led by President Sam Cooke with an order to sewer Nolan Circle, because there was raw sewage from the Circle pouring into the Muskingum River. People on the Circle griped much like the citizens of Devola are griping about putting in a sewer system now. The commissioners knew it had to be done so they worked alongside the EPA to get the job done. When it was all said and done everyone on Nolan Circle were glad the project had been done, because everyone knew that the septic tanks on the Circle surely had cracks and fissures on their bottom sides, thus leaking sewage into the open ground. And these septic tanks had only been in the ground on Nolan Circle for no longer than 20 years. Does anyone in Devola ever stop to think how long the current septic systems have been in the ground the other parts of Devola? There are many houses that have been here for 50 years. It doesn’t take an engineer’s knowledge to know what happens to concrete that has been deep in the ground for 10 years, let alone 50.

Nitrates in the water wells were a problem that the water board tackled a few short years ago. The nitrate levels were found to be high enough to cause birth defects in newborns, and the public raised all kinds of hell about it. So the water board invested in a reverse osmosis system to alleviate the problem, and the public was all lovey dovey. But the long term problem with nitrate levels is still with us today right beneath all of the septic tanks. This is because most of the septic tanks in Devola are cracked somewhere, hopefully near the bottoms of these tanks, but maybe not. This means that raw sewage is and has been spilling into our yards for sometimes now. This raw sewage will eventually make its way to the river just as happened on Nolan Circle. This will make the nitrate levels skyrocket in who knows how long and there will not be any reverse osmosis system that can handle this level of nitrates to make not only Devola’s water unsafe, but also any community that used processed water from the Muskingum as drinking water. Ie. Marietta and more. So citizens of Devola, you think that putting in a sewer system now will be costly, think how costly it would be to wait another 10 to 15 years.

It only cost people on Nolan Circle about $50 a month to pay for their system, so nobody will come anywhere close to losing houses in Devola now. How long must we listen to the demagoguery of the blockhead county commissioners and do what is right necessary and logical and do what the EPA has ordered us to do. The commissioners are not playing with fire, they are playing with the EPA, and my dad taught me that the EPA always wins, not because of bullying or lack of intelligence, but because they have engineers working for them that are every bit as smart as my father was. And Joseph A. Helm Jr. was a pistol.

Joseph A. Helm III lives in Marietta.