The village of Lithopolis has filed a suit against the village of Canal Winchester over wastewater service.
On Oct. 26, Lithopolis served Canal Winchester with a lawsuit compelling the Canal Winchester to honor its obligation for service under a 2002 agreement and an Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (OEPA) plan.
In an information sheet released by Lithopolis, the village stated that for more than a year it has sought to resolve the matter with Canal Winchester, "only to watch them create new issues in what appears to be an attempt to avoid their previous commitments. The facts of the complaint speak for themselves and the actions by Canal Winchester’s administration leaves Lithopolis no choice but to seek redress through civil litigation."
Under the 2002 Wastewater Service Agreement, Lithopolis contracted for a daily capacity of 250,000 gallons with Canal Winchester, but reports using less than 80,000 per day. According to Lithopolis, in 2004 the village attempted to renegotiate the agreement, but alleged talks broke down quickly when "Canal insisted on unreasonable conditions unacceptable to Lithopolis. Thereafter, with a declining housing market and sufficient capacity under the current contract, negotiating a capacity increase became irrelevant."
Development in the mix
In April 2005, Bill Griffith, his family, and a neighboring group of interested landowners annexed nearly 200 acres at the corner of Washington Street/State Route 256 and Lithopolis Road into Lithopolis, but not before trying to work out an agreement with Canal Winchester. The land remains in the Canal Winchester school district.
Griffith said negotiations began with the previous Canal Winchester mayoral administration, which he felt was open to discussions as to the potential use of the property. However, he claims he and his group got mixed messages from the current Canal Winchester administration.
In December 2005, Griffith stated one of Canal Winchester’s demands for annexing into the village "was that we pay the cost of widening Gender Road to five lanes, from the fire station to the road’s terminus. It meant we were looking at a cost of at least $10.5 million to build the road and another $1.5-$2 million to buy property or access rights…Well, I’m not Les Wexner and I don’t have that kind of money, which would have bankrupt the project. So, we annexed the property into Lithopolis. They were happy to have us and the tax base the project would bring."
In its Oct. 26 statement, Lithopolis said Canal Winchester attempted to block the Griffith annexation by making "frivolous" allegations-that Lithopolis could not service the properties-to the Franklin County Commissioners. Lithopolis officials state the commissioners disregarded Canal Winchester’s claims and supported the annexation.
"As development of the Griffith property moved forward, Lithopolis applied to the Ohio EPA for a permit to install a sewer trunk line to service the property. The application fell well within the scope of the Ohio EPA plan and our wastewater agreement with Canal Winchester," stated Lithopolis officials.
However, in order to secure the permit, Lithopolis needed a Letter of Support from Canal Winchester, since it was the service providing entity. Lithopolis reported Canal Winchester refused to provide the letter, claiming that Lithopolis did not have sufficient capacity to service the area under the current agreement.
"The claim was ridiculous in light of the fact that Lithopolis is currently using less than 80,000 per day of a contracted capacity of 250,000 gallons per day," according to Lithopolis officials. "OEPA agreed, and after a meeting between Lithopolis and Canal Winchester … Canal Winchester provided the Letter of Support on June 7, 2007."
In August 2007 the OEPA was scheduled to make a determination on the permit when Canal Winchester informed the agency they were suspending their support.
"The suspension of support contained blatantly false, misleading, and irrelevant accusations," alleged Lithopolis. "All of which have absolutely no bearing on Canal’s ability to provide wastewater service per the contract."
A month later, all of the parties sat down to resolve the situation and agreed if Lithopolis contracted for a certified operator, performed an assessment of its collection system, and paid for half the cost of a study of the Ashbrook lift station, Canal Winchester would reinstate its Letter of Support.
"While Lithopolis was under no statutory or contractual obligation to agree to these conditions, we felt it was in everyone’s best interest to move forward," continued the prepared Lithopolis statement. "On Oct.2, 2007 Lithopolis finally received a draft agreement from Canal, which, unbelievably, added issues and language not agreed to at the meeting and which attempted to modify our standing 2002 Wastewater Agreement. Nevertheless, an attempt by Lithopolis to make a good faith counteroffer was rejected by Canal. On Oct. 19, after two more weeks of costly delays orchestrated by Canal, Lithopolis unilaterally implemented the issues agreed to at the September meeting, including assuming the entire cost for the assessment of Canal’s Ashbrook Village lift station. Even so, as of Oct. 26, 2007, Canal Winchester continues to withhold the Letter of Support, delaying the project and irrevocably harming the Village of Lithopolis and its residents."
Lithopolis officials state their village has exercised patience, good faith, and diligence in its dealings with Canal Winchester for over three years regarding wastewater service and continues its request that Canal Winchester fulfill its contractual commitments.
"In the meantime," Lithopolis concluded, "we are forced to say enough is enough and look to the courts for long-awaited fair and level headed resolution of these issues."
Canal Winchester response
Canal Winchester Law Director Gene Hollins said, based on the fact that the disagreement between Lithopolis and the village is headed to court, Canal Winchester is limited on commenting on the litigation, which also names the OEPA in the lawsuit.
"Canal Winchester withdrew its Letter of Support based on staff’s serious concerns about Lithopolis’ loss of a certified operator and their discharge of untreated sewage from a poorly maintained line," stated Hollins. "Despite a productive meeting at OEPA, Lithopolis balked at entering into an agreement based on these concerns. Legal action is being instituted upon the EPA to force a PTI (wastewater permit) without an agreement or a Letter of Support. Canal Winchester doesn’t understand Lithopolis’ motive or tactics in these regards and thought the parties were negotiating in good faith."