Ohio EPA presses sewer proposal

The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency is wading into the debate over the proposed west Groveport Road sanitary sewer project.

The Ohio EPA has ordered two properties – St. Mary Catholic Church and Bright Innovations LLC – located along the unsewered stretch of west Groveport Road, to connect to the village of Groveport’s sanitary sewer system and abandon their private sewage disposal systems.

In an statement Aug. 29, the Ohio EPA noted that water quality samples taken in June 2008 from the ditch across from St. Mary Catholic Church "show fecal coliform and E. coli levels in excess of state water quality standards. This is a potential risk to human health."

St. Mary Catholic Church would be required to connect to the existing sewer line, which now only extends to Greenpointe Drive, by spring 2009 with Bright Innovations ordered to tie in after the church is connected. The property owners were given 30 days to appeal the ruling.

"It’s not uncommon for the agency to require property owners to connect to a sewer system when necessary," said Erin Strouse of the Ohio EPA in a Sept. 2 interview. She added that, over the past two years, the Ohio EPA has issued similar orders to about a dozen other property owners around the state.

"It’s been done before," she said.

Strouse said the Ohio EPA has the authority to require a municipality to maintain public health and abate nuisances. She further stated the agency can require property owners who are responsible for their own systems to take the proper steps to ensure the public health.

On Aug. 29, the Ohio EPA stated it "believes that a central sewer to serve this area is needed and is the most appropriate solution as a sewer line accounting for future growth is part of Groveport’s long term infrastructure needs."

The Ohio EPA further stated it "has worked for many years with the involved parties to reach a mutually acceptable resolution, but these efforts have been unsuccessful." Ohio EPA officials feel they "must now proceed with its statutory duty to protect public health and the environment," and "is issuing these orders to begin the process of ensuring that sewage in this area is being handled properly."

Background

The proposed, 2,100 foot, approximately $840,000 sanitary sewer line would include properties along Groveport Road extending west from Greenpointe Drive to the First Baptist Church of Groveport property and would serve an area encompassing 240 acres.

Groveport Village Council initially rejected the plan by a split vote in December 2006 as some council members felt the direct assessments to fund the project would be a burden on the affected property owners. Plus, some property owners in the area feel they do not have sewage problems and therefore do not need the new sewer. However, supporters of the project – including Marc Studley of Access Storage and representatives of the First Baptist Church of Groveport – and the Ohio EPA brought the project back to the attention of Groveport officials in August.

Ohio EPA viewpoint

"The Ohio EPA intends to require the remaining property owners along Groveport Road to tie in as the sewer becomes available and accessible," the Ohio EPA said in its Aug. 29 statement. "There are more than a dozen parcels owned by nine landowners along Groveport Road between Greenpointe Drive and Swisher Road that are all served by individual sewage treatment systems. These parcels consist of semi-public facilities, single family rental properties, private residences, and an undeveloped lot and a farm field."

The Ohio EPA indicated it would consider modifying its orders if Groveport decides to construct the sewer line extension.

"Should that occur the property owners would be simply required to connect to the line when it becomes available," according to the Ohio EPA.

Village of Groveport viewpoint

"The village never indicated it would pay to put the sewer line in," said Groveport Law Director Kevin Shannon in a Sept. 2 interview. "There was never any conclusion the village would pay for it."

Shannon said the intention would be, if the project were to proceed, for the village to go to the property owners and ask how they want to pay for the sewer project.

"Some want assessments and some don’t want assessments," said Shannon, who added that in past discussions a majority of property owners did not want to be assessed for the project.

"We’ve brought this (sewer project) up before and it didn’t go through," said Councilwoman Jean Ann Hilbert at council’s Aug. 18 meeting. "The affected property owners must decide what they want to do and then come to us and say, ‘This is what we want.’"

Village officials planned to send out information to property owners in the affected area regarding potential assessments and to answer questions raised about the potential sewer project. The village will also wait to see the results of any appeal St. Mary Catholic Church and Bright Innovations make to the Ohio EPA before proceeding with further discussions.

Potential costs

Interim Village Administrator Ken Salak provided estimates for direct assessments to affected property owners that would fund the sewer project. Two sets of estimates based on acreage and frontage for the 16 properties were tabulated.

The 20 year, estimated total assessments for the 16 properties for the proposed project range from $4,516 to $369,952 based on acreage; and from $13,395 to $155,892 based on frontage. Estimated annual payments range from $350 to $28,689 based on acreage; and from  $1,039 to $12,089 based on frontage.

Shannon said direct assessments are used to pay for a project when a municipality determines there is a need to extend a utility and the affected property owners have not voluntarily petitioned the government to do so. Approval of a resolution of necessity for the project would require five of six council votes for approval if the proposed project is not requested by petition by a majority of the affected property owners.

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