Chardon Township residents last week vowed to continue fighting a government-ordered central sewer system for their neighborhood.
About 50 persons from the Berkshire Estates neighborhood came to hear what costs they would bear in the proposed $4.5 million wastewater treatment plant planned to begin operation in June 2021.
Steve Oluic, director of Geauga County’s Water Resource Department, told residents that they could expect a $28,000 assessment for 30 years as well as an additional $4,500 to $7,000 cost to tie into the system.
The assessment is expected to impact about 113 households on Henning, Howard, Helmut and Olmar drives as well as homes on Thwing Road.
The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency issued a 2014 order that the plant be built after high levels of E. coli were found leaching from septic systems in the neighborhood.
“The EPA writes orders, but they don’t pay for it,” Helmut Drive resident Charles DiCillo said. “We’ll never get the money out of our house. We could live there a hundred years and not get the money out of our house. This is over the top.”
Mr. DiCillo, like many of his neighbors expressed frustration with some saying they had dutifully maintained their septic systems and some had spent thousands to put in new septic systems only to be told they now had to pay again.
Mr. DiCillo said he would mount a door-to-door campaign with a form letter to the OEPA, seeking to reverse the order.
County and township officials had appealed early in the process to have the OEPA identify just those with failing septic systems and order them to make repairs, rather than build the wastewater treatment plant, but the OEPA rejected that proposal.
Mr. Oluic said the residents can file objections with Geauga County Commissioners within five days of the meeting and could seek deferments of up to 75 percent of their cost. He said residents could also take their fight to Geauga County Probate Court. He said residents would have to show an error in the proposed boundaries of the new sewer district on the apportioning of the assessment to win their case.
Gerald Morgan, county administrator, said the deferments only put off paying the whole bill. Using a hypothetical $1,000 annual payment, Mr. Morgan said, residents may pay $250 for the first five years, but end up paying the remainder over the next 25 years. He said those that fail to tie into the new system could face a $1,000-a-day-fine. “When you bring in the EPA, that’s when things go south,” he said.
Commissioner Ralph Spidalieri offered his support, saying officials had fought with the OEPA for years in an attempt to change their minds, but the effort was futile. “None of us want to do this,” Mr. Spidalieri said.
He said once the OEPA “gets their claws into it,” it becomes hopeless to change their minds. He said once the OEPA found the contaminants, it became a health risk for the neighborhood.
Residents complained that only a few in the neighborhood had failed to properly maintain their septic systems and all were being punished.
“Where were the samples taken?” Dan “DJ” Green asked officials. “I never saw the EPA.” Mr. Green said some residents may lose their homes because of the assessment.
He said he bought his home two years ago and the septic system passed inspections. “Five houses (in violation) does not define a problem” Mr. Green said.
Residents, talking from the crowd, called the cost “ridiculous” and asked whether the government could pay the cost upfront and then work out a “reasonable” payment for residents.
Henning Drive resident Joseph Coyote told the crowd he tests things for a living and that there should be a way to identify the problems in the neighborhood and fix them without punishing the whole neighborhood.
“How can there be nothing you can do?” Mr. Coyote asked. “If you can’t pinpoint a problem how do we know the assessment will solve the problem? How do you know it’s not coming from outside the area? You’re paying for it with our money.”
Residents said the neighborhood is made up of modest homes, but Mr. Oluic said the state considers Geauga a wealthy county, hurting residents’ chances of getting more relief on their costs.
Jessica Boalt, director of the county’s department on aging, said seniors may be able to benefit from grants and loans available through the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which offers up to a $7,500 grant for those 62 and older and up to a $20,000 loan at 1 percent interest. She said residents can seek both. She said the assistance is income-based and her staff would assist in filling out forms for the programs.
Mr. Spidalieri said the county is “stuck” because of the EPA order and that order now commands residents to “dig into your pockets and figure out where the money is going to come from because this has to be done. We understand where you’re coming from, but the EPA ordered this to be done,” he said.
Mr. Spidalieri encouraged residents to join in the letter-writing campaign, saying it “wouldn’t hurt” to try. “I think we need to take this to the next step,” he said.