Few answers yet on Devola sewer timetable

Residents of Devola are in a sort of flush-and-drain limbo as they await detailed information on the court-ordered sewer project intended to reduce the community’s nitrate pollution of groundwater and the Muskingum River.

The project, which will cost more than $7 million according to an estimate compiled in 2016, will affect upwards of 700 households which are now using either septic tank or drywell disposal systems for wastewater.

The Washington County commissioners also are waiting.

“There is no timeline yet, there is a process that will dictate it,” commissioner David White said this week. “We want to get the engineering study first, it will have a range of costs, and we can start to narrow things down.”

The engineering study is being done by WSP USA, an engineering firm in Columbus, he said.

“We’ve left it in the hands of our law firm, Bricker and Eckler. They’re guiding us through the process, and we haven’t heard anything from them recently,” White said.

The court decision, handed down in late November, that compelled the county to undertake the project ordered the process to start “immediately.” In the original order being enforced, the county was required to provide sewerage connections to 62 residences on Lawton Road by 2020 and the remainder of the community, with a few narrow exceptions, by 2025. There already are about 320 homes on a sewer system.

At least one local Realtor said he doesn’t think the uncertainty has affected the housing market in the community. McCarthy Real Estate currently has at least two properties listed in Devola.

“I haven’t seen it as much of a detriment,” said Steve McCarthy. “I’ve sold houses that aren’t yet on sewer, and there wasn’t much of a negative effect. Once the project is done, I think the houses would be more desirable than they would be on septic. There’s a potential maintenance issue, although if you take care of them you wouldn’t likely see any trouble, but if it fails, that’s a big problem.”

Catlin Ball owns four acres of farmland on River Road in Devola, not far from the community water treatment facility, and lives in a house three blocks away. He and his wife have been considering building a home adjacent to their farmland but have decided to wait until they have more precise information on the sewerage project.

“Our house is on hold because we want to see what happens with that sewer project,” he said. “I’ve been told that end of River Road will be the last to be on septic, but right now it sounds like any of that could change at any time.”

The sewer project will be complex, White said, because it’s being done in a place that’s already developed. With new developments sewer lines can be run with other utilities under the roads, but the cost of tearing up and repaving roads to install sewer lines in a settled area like Devola will be prohibitive. The commission prefers to run the lines in back of houses where possible, he said, but that will involve acquiring rights-of-way.

“Once they break ground it will move fairly quickly, but the hardest thing is determining where to run it,” he said. “Easements, like going through backyards instead of streets, could make it less costly. It’s not like just building a new neighborhood.”

White said there will be more certainty once the preliminary engineering study is available.

“We’ll have a much better idea, know a whole lot more about the costs and the timeline, when we have that,” White said. “We hate being in the sewer business, but if we’re going to do it, we want it done right.”

Devola sewer project

• Washington County Commissioners are waiting for study from engineering firm.

• Project will connect more than 700 housing units to sanitary sewer system.

• Cost estimated in 2016 at $7.2 million.

Source: Times research.