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Washington County talks sewer project

A letter from Heritage Land Services to residents of Devola caused a disturbance at Thursday’s meeting of the Washington County Commission.

Heritage Land Services is the company which will handle the right-of-way and easement acquisitions as part of the Devola sewer project.

The Ohio EPA ordered the project done in 2012 due to high levels of nitrates in well water. The commissioners at the time voted not to follow the order, which led to the Ohio EPA suing the county. The original court order required the county to provide sewerage connections to homes on Lawton Road by the end of 2020, with the remainder of the community to be connected by 2025.

It will affect everyone from Ohio 60 to Masonic Park Road, to Magnum Magnetics to the Devola Volunteer Fire Department, along Devols Dam Road down to the River Road, per the court order from the Ohio EPA. It does not include River Road or the fire house.

Devola resident Marcia Pawloski read part of the letter to commissioners, which states if the homeowner is in agreement with the contractor’s installation and connection of their home to the system at no additional cost, they should review and execute the agreement.

“The way I read that, and I’m not an attorney, but I did deal with contracts for 35 years, it says that it doesn’t cost me anything,” Pawloski said. “That’s how I read that and there are other people who read that and believe that’s what that says.”

She commented the commissioners said in a recent meeting the tap fee for the project would be $8,000 to $12,000.

“So what is it?” she asked.

Both Commissioner David White and Commission President Ron Feathers said they don’t see a discrepancy.

“It says at no additional cost to you, meaning it’s not going to cost me anything to get sewered? That’s the way I read it,” Pawloski said.

White said homeowners wouldn’t be billed for it, and Pawloski asked if it would be free.

“No,” Feathers said.

White said they did not approve the content of any letter being sent.

“However, it is fairly accurate. I don’t see any … there might be some misinterpretations. Some people might read it a certain way,” he said.

White said to clarify, residents will not be sent a bill for the work being done. It will go into the cost of operation of the sewer.

Pawloski asked for clarification of the process.

“At some point, there are going to be two things you’ll be charged for. There will be an assessment and there will be a raise in the rate … obviously you’re going to pay a sewer bill you haven’t had to pay before,” White said.

He said the letter was sent out because Heritage has to have written permission on file to be able to come onto their property.

“However if you don’t do it, and this is not a threat, I don’t know how they worded it on (the letter), if you don’t do it, there’s still got to be a way to get in there and do it,” he explained. “So you’re probably looking at court actions or something of that nature, which would make the whole thing cost even more.”

Feathers said about a year ago, it was decided to incorporate everything into the one project.

“The county would not only own the main lines, but the county would also maintain and own the laterals that’s going from your house. There’s no charge for you to have that put in up front,” he said. “The county is going to do it. We’re going to maintain the pumps, we’re going to maintain the valves, we’re going to maintain everything but the electricity.”

He added in order for Heritage to get permission to move forward with the EPA to approve the plan, they have to have these signatures on file.

“Saying ‘yes you can come onto my property, you’ll be able to put your little pump in, you’ll be able to hook my septic in and destroy my old septic tank at no upfront cost,'” he replied.

The cost will be split among all property owners in Devola, which is where the assessment cost comes in, he said. It can be paid in one lump sum or put it on taxes for the length and term of the loan, which has not been determined yet.

“We cannot give you exact figures because the engineering firm we’ve hired is still waiting to get approval from the EPA to move forward and get a contractor to give us pricing,” Feathers said.

He said the court case was fought for almost eight years, but the county lost and Devola will be sewered.

Flite Freimann, director of Washington County Job and Family Services, said he has previously litigated cases like this. The homeowners have private property, but they are being court ordered to be sewered.

He said Heritage is asking for permission to go onto their property, just as the sheriff couldn’t go onto a property without a search warrant.

“No one can predict the total cost. If everyone in Devola says ‘yes you can come onto my property,’ the cost is relatively low,” he said. “If you don’t grant that, then Heritage has to go to court to get a court order, which increases the total cost of the project.”

He clarified Heritage’s letter.

“When they say at no additional cost, what they mean is, they will come out to your property and do this without directly billing you,” Freimann said.

He said the final cost may not be known for three or four years, when the project is complete.

Rich Wischmann, lead engineer at WSP Inc., the firm handling the project, attended Thursday’s meeting. He said everything was accurate in that the letter may be misleading, but there is no upfront cost.

“We will take out the septic tank which is the EPA requirement, install sewers and grinder pumps and there will be no monetary transaction at that time,” he said.

WSP submitted their 90 percent pre-final plan on Nov. 23 to the Ohio EPA. They hope to have comments back from the EPA by the first week of January, with anticipation of final approval in January or February.

“Depending on when comments are received back from the Ohio EPA,” Wischmann said.

He said the plan is to advertise for contractors around the first of April, with bid opening around the first of May. The construction start date is scheduled for July 1.

Messages left for Chris Howard, president of Heritage Land Services Inc., were not returned.

Michele Newbanks can be reached at

mnewbanks@mariettatimes.com.

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