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Cost scenarios estimated for Devola sewer project

Confusion over timing and cost to sewer Devola has left residents with unanswered questions, even after a public meeting in October that provided updated information.

While there are still many question marks in the plan, two possible scenarios for the project compiled by The Marietta Times with information provided by the county, along with going rates show an estimated total cost to homeowners over 30 years as between $66,300 and $78,575.

“We do not have a contract, we do not have a full scope of this, but at that meeting we were trying to give (residents) something to plan for,” said Washington County Commissioner Ron Feathers this week. “The tie-in costs we still don’t know, it’s up to the (Ohio Environmental Protection Agency) to decide.”

But many residents left that meeting with more questions.

• How much money do individual homeowners have to save up?

• How much time do individual homeowners have to save those funds?

• How much in upfront costs can each individual homeowner anticipate?

• How much cost would be stretched out over the life of a 30-year county loan and assessed to individual property taxes?

The most concise answer given by county officials is they don’t know.

Feathers said the last general plan submitted to the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency in 2006 was only 30-percent complete and it theorized all sewer mains running beneath the township streets.

“We’re picking up where Stantec left off and hoping to improve on the accuracy now available with better technology using addressing and GIS,” added Washington County Engineer Roger Wright Wednesday.

Now, tasking their contracted engineering firm (WSP USA) and their legal counsel (Bricker and Eckler) with generating both timing and technical plans for Ohio EPA approval, the hope is for more answers for residents in January.

HOMEOWNER COST SCENARIOS

Four variables must be factored into cost estimates as residents prepare for the coming sewering.

Those variables cover upfront (year one) costs versus annual costs.

1. Property assessment for county sewer main engineering and construction.

2. One-time conversion cost from septic to sewer.

3. One-time tap-in cost connecting a property to a new county sewer main.

4. Annual sewer billing rates.

If the Ohio EPA requires the county to finance only the engineering and construction of sewer mains and provide locations for each property to tie in, then residents may anticipate a higher year-one cost but lower overall assessment over 30 years of property taxes (see Scenario A.)

If the Ohio EPA requires or allows the county commissioners to finance all costs of sewering from main construction to in-home plumbing, septic conversion and tap-in, then residents may budget for an even cost spread over 30 years, but a higher overall assessment to their property taxes (see Scenario B.)

Scenario A: Bare bones (county putting in only main lines)

If the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency only requires the county to finance the installation of the main sewer lines and to provide taps at each property, then the current estimate of the county’s expense on the project is $15 million.

With that $15 million estimate, the commissioners have reported to homeowners they may each pay a $10,000 to $15,000 tax assessment over an anticipated 30 years at approximately $500 per year.

That tax assessment would cover each private property share of the engineering and construction for new sewer mains including:

• Determining locations.

• Land acquisition/easements.

• Engineering and design costs.

• Construction costs including:

• Digging trenches/boring.

• Laying bedding.

• Installing main piping.

• Installing potential grinder pumps.

• Installing manholes.

• Construction administration costs.

• Inspection costs.

• Debt service interest.

That $500 per year would not include the upfront (year one) cost on a homeowner to decommission their current septic system, install a sewer lateral line from their home, hook onto the new line nor the annual sewer usage rates billed bi-monthly.

Current estimates reported by the Washington County commissioners at public meetings in October, speculate the present $66.50 per month residential sewer rates to rise to $106.50 per month.

With this bare bones scenario of county responsibility and residents financially responsible for adding in their own lines, a homeowner could anticipate a year-one cost to run $14,738.

That cost would be comprised of:

1. Tax assessment for county construction of main line (annual cost): $500.

2. Conversion from septic to sewer (one-time cost): $8,900.

Included in that $8,900 is:

• Installing a new sewer lateral to connect to a new county main trunk: $50-250 per foot, average cost $2,900.

• Trenching under one’s residential foundation: $800 per 100 linear feet.

• Installing a backflow preventer: $150-$1,150.

• Installing sewer cleanout: $2,000.

• Installing new interior plumbing lines: average $1,050.

• Decommissioning current septic system: $500-$1,000.

These cost estimates are the going rate per action according to HomeAdvisor International.

3. County tap-in (one-time cost): $4,060.

Washington County Wastewater Clerk Shelly Vincent explained Wednesday that the current tap fee for all residents across the county is $4,000 plus a $60 inspection fee.

“That’s anywhere on our sewer lines right now,” she said, noting no difference between connection costs for the county’s existing sewer lines in Vincent, Barlow, Little Hocking or Belpre Township.

4. Sewer usage (annual cost): $1,278.

After the first year costs above, the estimated annual homeowner cost years 2-30 (annual tax assessment plus annual sewer usage bill) would equal $1,778.

This would then produce an estimated cumulative 30-year cost to homeowners (one-time costs plus annual tax assessment plus annual sewer usage bill) of $66,300.

“That estimate is with installing predominantly gravity lines and assuming the landowners give the necessary easements we need to run the lines behind their backyards to platted alleys,” said Wright. “If we have to acquire land, that’s an additional cost.”

Wright said other additional costs still to be priced through further engineering could include directional boring and/or weighing options to connect homes via either shallow lines in the front lawns to grinder pumps or deep sewer lines with a gravity flow.

Scenario B: Total connection

If the Ohio EPA requires or allows the county commissioners to fully connect each of the 550 residences from inside each home to the new sewer mains, assuming the same rates for conversion and connection as Scenario A, the total project cost would bump up but it may lower the upfront cost to each homeowner by leveling the payments over 30 years.

At an engineering and construction cost estimate of $15 million, the county could additionally absorb the up-front conversion and tap costs for $7.13 million, spreading out those costs for residents.

Those up-front costs include:

• An estimated $4,895,000 to convert 550 homes from septic to sewer (assuming no bulk-rate discount nor phased financing including grants.)

• An estimated $2,233,000 to then tie-in the 550 homes to the county’s new sewer mains (assuming no county waiver in-part or in-total of the county’s going rate to tie-in.)

While this would increase the total cost of the project to an estimated $22,128,000, that cost divided by 30 years would result in the county annual debt service of approximately $737,600.

Devola residents could then budget for two costs every year for 30 years:

1. Annual tax assessment estimate: $1,341:

That assessment would then include each residence’s share of:

• Determining locations.

• Land acquisition/easements.

• Engineering and design costs.

• Construction costs including:

• Digging trenches/boring.

• Laying bedding.

• Installing main piping.

• Installing potential grinder pumps.

• Installing manholes.

• Construction administration costs.

• Inspection costs.

• Debt service interest.

• Conversion from septic to sewer including:

• Install new sewer line to connect to county main trunk.

• Trenching under foundation.

• Backflow preventer.

• Sewer cleanout.

• Install new interior plumbing lines.

• Decommission of septic tank.

• Tap-in and inspection cost.

2. Annual sewer usage estimate: $1,278.

Total: $2,620 per year.

This higher annual estimate– but lower first-year cost–is totaled with the assumption that the county is unsuccessful in its pursuit of grant funding or phased construction and conversions (a worst case scenario.)

NEXT WEEK

The commissioners have until Nov. 29 to submit a schedule proposal to the Ohio Environmental Agency.

“Next week’s submission is requesting permission on a phased timeline,” explained Wright. “It includes a schedule we’d propose that’s tied to state fiscal year availability for financing.”

Wright said additional questions to be posed to the Ohio EPA include whether or not the commissioners are required to or may include the individual property costs to convert from septic to sewer systems in the overall project.

“We are asking the EPA to give us an answer on whether we’re responsible for the full connection to the house or just providing the tap,” he explained.

He said the submission also requires in one document for the county to outline where Devola’s effluent would be sent (currently planned for Marietta’s wastewater treatment plant).

“While the commissioners have the intergovernmental agreement with (Marietta) we’re not allowed to build our own plant,” said Wright. “The city’s plant was designed for our additional effluent (and) it would make sense to send that effluent to the city.”

Feathers said that submission deadline should be met without delay by the county, but was unaware of a feasible timeline to then receive feedback from the Ohio EPA.

OHIO EPA PURVIEW

The Ohio EPA, Wright explained, will then have three major decisions to produce on the county’s Nov. 29 submission:

1. Decide if the proposed schedule contingent on funding is permissible.

2. Decide if the proposed scope including approximately 550 residences in Devola is permissible.

3. Decide if the county must include in scope of work the full connection of each sewer line to each household or may stop at building new sewer mains and providing available taps.

“Right now we’re in phases of design that need answers to those questions,” the county engineer continued. “In Phase I of design we’ve estimated at least two public meetings — that second happening in January as we near a 30-percent general plan completion.”

Then Phase II of design would reach a 90-percent plan completion before hosting a third public meeting.

“Phase III of design would be to reach 100-percent design completion and roll into contract administration, final estimates and bidding,” Wright added. “All anybody really knows right now is there are more public meetings to follow.”

CITY LAWSUIT IMPACT

Meanwhile, the county commissioners are still entrenched in the city of Marietta’s lawsuit for breach of contract involving sewering.

The city alleges the county commissioners have failed to meet contractual obligations under the intergovernmental agreement to sewer both Devola and Oak Grove residences in four phases concluding in December 2016.

While procedural motions and rulings have delayed the conclusion of this lawsuit as it bounced between Washington County Common Pleas Court and the Fourth District Court of Appeals, the merits (or material substance) of the suit remain in play as discovery filings for each side begin.

“We are still hoping to reach an agreement on the suit but can only keep offering so much,” said Matthew Dooley, the city’s legal counsel in the case. “The original intergovernmental agreement didn’t include an added cost onto the county for tying into the city lines, but if the county commissioners don’t think that’s a valid contract they don’t necessarily get to assume there will be no cost to tie in — We don’t get to pick and choose the provisions of any contract to honor.”

That suit is currently set for a 10-day jury trial beginning July 13, 2020.

NEW YEAR REVIEW

Wright said the cost assessments and scope of the Devola sewer project (bare bones versus total connection) are contingent on both Ohio EPA direction and commissioner policy after the Ohio EPA’s initial answers on scheduling based on state fiscal year applications.

Cost estimates for a potential sewer project of Oak Grove have not yet been sought by the county.

Wright and Feathers said they anticipate holding the next Devola public meeting in January to review those initial answers.

Janelle Patterson can be reached at patterson@mariettatimes.com.

What’s next

• Nov. 29: Ohio Environmental Protection Agency deadline to receive schedule proposal from the Washington County commissioners.

• January: Anticipated next public meeting to review Ohio EPA response to that schedule.

Sources: Washington County Commissioner Ron Feathers and Washington County Engineer Roger Wright.

HOMEOWNER COST ESTIMATE SCENARIOS

A: If county provides main lines and homeowners are responsible for the rest

• Estimated homeowner cost first year: $14,738.

• Estimated annual homeowner cost years 2-30 (annual tax assessment plus annual sewer usage bill): $1,778.

• Total estimated cumulative 30-year cost to homeowner (one-time costs plus annual tax assessment plus annual sewer usage bill): $66,300.

• Total estimated project cost to county: $15 million.

B: Total connection by the county

• Estimated homeowner cost first year: $2,620.

• Estimated annual homeowner cost years 2-30 (annual tax assessment plus annual sewer usage bill): $2,620.

• Total estimated cumulative 30-year cost to homeowner (engineering, construction, conversion and tap-in costs combined plus annual sewer usage bill): $78,575.

• Total estimated project cost to county: $22.1 million.

Sources: HomeAdvisor International, Washington County commissioners, Times research.

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