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Commissioners respond to EPA letter

The Ohio EPA’s questions about the general plan for the Devola sewer project brought reactions from Washington County commissioners during their meeting Thursday morning.

“After receiving court orders from Judge (Linton) Lewis in November of 2018, we set about engaging the best engineers we could find,” said Commissioner David White. “We also engaged the best project and legal managers we could find in order to not run afoul of the court order or the Ohio EPA.”

Commissioners are under court order to comply with the Ohio EPA to sewer approximately 550 homes in Devola after the EPA reported pollution in the water and aging septic systems.

White said the managers and engineers hired have been in constant contact with, and have received approval from, the Ohio EPA every step of the way with the project.

“It’s disappointing to read in (Thursday’s) newspaper that people within the OEPA do not even communicate with each other,” he said.

The Marietta Times article in question quotes a letter from the section manager for the Ohio EPA region’s compliance office that the general plan submitted by the engineering firm WSP USA was more of an outline than an approvable general plan, and failed to follow the spirit of the judge’s order. It continues that this action only delayed the mitigation of the problem and protection of the Devola citizens’ public health.

The general plan submitted was for a three-year project, while the court order said it must be done within two years.

Naiel Hussein, project manager for WSP, said he doesn’t see the Ohio EPA’s letter as a big issue.

“Our firm submitted the general plan after being contracted only six weeks. We addressed the issues,” he said. “The EPA is not happy with the schedule, which was a three-year schedule.”

He said he is working with county attorneys Bricker and Eckler on a reply to the letter that he will send to the commissioners for their approval. Once approved, it will be submitted to the EPA.

“I think we are not too far off. They complained about the two-year schedule,” Hussein said. “But their schedule does not include the lateral connections.”

He said the schedule his firm submitted also included things like analyzing various alternatives, holding public meetings to keep the Devola residents informed, and providing recommendations to the commissioners.

“We also had to go and investigate grants and loans available,” Hussein added. “With the EPA, maybe they are thinking since there was a plan done 10 years ago, we could use that.”

Commission President Ron Feathers said he was disappointed with the letter from OEPA on Jan. 30, and with Thursday’s Marietta Times article.

“It doesn’t appear to reflect the cooperative discussions that were taking place between the Ohio EPA and the staff at WSP,” he said. “It does not copy any of the individuals of the Ohio EPA’s district office who, with the engineers that we hired, were actually in discussion all this time.”

The Ohio EPA’s letter noted the general plan is not approvable, but Feathers said there is no red line of the issues with the plan or a more pointed critique that would guide or correct a re-submittal of the plan.

“Folks, understand something. There is no imminent health threat in Devola,” he said. “There never has been. If there was, they certainly would not have allowed us to fight them for seven years, and they wouldn’t give us two additional years to actually complete the process.”

He said the general plan was submitted on a timeline given by the court, so the order of the court has been fulfilled.

“Now it will be up to Judge Linton Lewis to decide whether or not we have completed that,” Feathers added. “Not the Ohio EPA.”

Michele Newbanks can be reached at mnewbanks@mariettatimes.com.

Dates to Remember:

• Courthouse closed Monday for Presidents Day.

• Monthly finance committee meeting, 10 a.m. Tuesday, conference room A.

• Regular commission meeting, 9 a.m. Thursday, 1115 Gilman Ave.

• Primary election voting on March 17.

Source: Washington County Commission Clerk.

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