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Devola sewer proposal sent to Ohio EPA

A general plan for equipping Devola with a system of sanitary sewers has been sent to the Ohio EPA, a Washington County commissioner said Monday. The county now will wait for a determination from the agency on whether the plan meets its requirements.

Commissioner Ron Feathers said the plan was compiled by engineering consultants WSP USA, a firm that specializes in infrastructure projects for disadvantaged communities.

Feathers said the general plan submission involved three options regarding the type of system that could be used: gravity, pressurized or a hybrid using both those methods for moving the sewage through lines to get it to the Marietta municipal treatment plant.

“The EPA wants to make sure that whatever the firm does meets their requirements,” Feathers said. “All three of them might meet those requirements, and if so we’ll just settle on what we think is the best model. We’ve left the submission with WSP, they’ve done this all over Ohio.”

The county has been dragged reluctantly into the project by both the state environmental agency, which has ordered it to quit using septic tank waste treatment because it was found to be creating water pollution, and by the city of Marietta, which went to the expense of increasing its sewage treatment capacity on the strength of a contract to treat effluent from Devola. A lawsuit with the city is still pending, while the EPA won a court challenge from the county on its orders to sewer.

Feathers said the county still is considering whether to undertake a basic project that would install main sewer lines and put the burden of connecting to them on the individual property owners, or to undertake the complete project, including remediation of septic systems and the individual property connections. Either approach has inherent problems, he said. The EPA will ultimately determine whether commissioners must complete the full project or if there is a choice.

If the county adopts the mainline-only model and some property owners fail to reconfigure their dwellings to connect to the sewer, the county would be faced with the need to compel compliance and the accompanying legal costs and headaches.

“That’s where the prosecuting attorney will come in, and nobody wants that,” Feathers said.

But if the county undertakes the entire scope of the project, a degree of unfairness could be involved.

“If we’re responsible for the laterals (individual property lines), that makes the cost even higher, and everybody will have to dig deeper into their pockets for the monthly bills,” he said. “For example, one person might decide to do it themselves, dig a trench and run the pipe, and maybe spend $500, while the guy next door has paved a driveway over his septic tank, and it might cost him $15,000. Do you want to pay for that? But that’s what the EPA might order.”

The range of total cost is significant, with the county estimating that the “basic” plan would amount to about $15 million, but a “complete” plan that includes construction of the individual property laterals would add 50 percent to that cost. Those figures, he said, are based on the engineering firm’s experiences with other communities in similar situations.

Feather said the cost to individual property owners is impossible to estimate with any accuracy because the situations for each property vary wildly. Some residences in Devola are already hooked up to sewer, but about 450 still use septic tanks.

The county has engaged the Bricker and Eckler accounting and legal firm to examine its financing options, Feathers said, and WSP also has experience with funding options for small community infrastructure projects. The county and the two firms are looking for grants, he said, although such grants have become increasingly scarce in the past several years and those that remain are targeted toward economically disadvantaged communities.

“It will primarily be financed with loans. There’s just not a lot of grant money available for projects like this, and there are communities all over Ohio with a more attractive low-to-moderate income profile,” he said. “Rest assured, no stone will be left unturned.”

Once the county receives the EPA’s assessment of the general plan, Feathers said, work in greater detail can begin. The EPA has not set a date for responding, but Feathers said the county hopes to have public meetings starting early next year and to have developed a plan of action – either bids or seeking a construction-manager-at-risk – sometime in the spring.

Devola resident John Karas, a former township trustee, said he lives in a Devola neighborhood that was sewered several years ago. He said for that project individual property owners had their own laterals and septic tank remediation done, but the cost at that time was considerably lower than it would be now.

At that time, he said, small groups of neighbors got together for discussions about how they would handle the project – which he said was necessary because their septic tanks were putting effluent into the river – and how best to cooperate.

“I think it would help if small neighborhood groups could discuss things, like whether the main pipes might go through the backs of properties instead of along the streets in some places where that would make sense, just people living around a couple of streets discussing the pros and cons,” he said.

Devola sewer project:

• Basic project estimated at $15 million that would install main sewage lines and leave expense of individual access to property owners.

• Complete project estimated at $22 million that cover all expenses.

• Basic project would involve higher front-end expenses for property owners but would result in lower long-term costs.

• Complete project would cost less at the beginning but levy higher costs over long term.

• County submitted general project plan proposals through its engineering consultant WSP to Ohio EPA by Nov. 29 deadline.

Source: Washington County.

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