MORELAND HILLS — After hearing concerns from residents who were required to abandon their septic systems and tie into the sewer line within six months, the village and Cuyahoga County Board of Health put a hold on the mandate to determine what it means to be accessible to the sewer line.

Council also passed an ordinance to offer a three-year payment plan for the tie-in fee.

In February, 23 residents received a letter from the county health board stating they had six months to tie into the regional sewer line because their household was accessible.

The cost would be a minimum of $15,000 per household, according to village Engineer Jeff Filarski. Some residents say their cost would be much higher.

Jackson Road residents Ethan and Elizabeth Spencer voiced their concerns at the April 10 council meeting and questioned why the mandate applied to their property.

“According to one registered contractor, for me to connect to [the sewer connection], it would involve installing a new collection tank in my backyard, a grinder, a lift pump and 275 feet of pipe,” Mr. Spencer said. “The cost is near $50,000. All of this would provide, in my opinion, no environmental benefit given that I have a working (septic) system.”

Mr. Filarski said that there have been many discussions between council members, residents and the CCBH.

“It’s all based on ‘accessibility’ and there’s no written definition,” he said.

Since “accessibility” is not defined with a measurable distance, residents are questioning why some houses are required to tie into the sewer line and others are not. Mr. Filarski said that residents can apply for a financial hardship by presenting their case to the county health board. Mayor Susan Renda said that she is encouraged that there is a hold on the mandate so the village can work out the details of this requirement with the county.

“I’m grateful for that decision,” Mayor Renda said. “I support it and feel it was the correct one.”

Two numbers that have come up during discussions on accessibility are 400 feet and 200 feet, and Nate McConoughey of the county health board clarified these rules. He explained that if a household is within 400 feet of a sanitary sewer line, it cannot get coverage for the EPA’s National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit. A discharging septic system treats sewage and discharges it into a storm sewer or creek. A non-discharging system percolates into the soil and an EPA permit is not needed for that, he said.

Another law found in the Ohio Revised Code, according to Mr. McConoughey, states that a household does not have to connect to the sanitary sewer line if it is more than 200 feet away. He said that many municipalities used that rule in the past, although it does not apply to most sewer projects because it is intended for projects that will “reduce or eliminate an existing health problem or a hazard of water pollution,” according to the code.

Mr. McConoughey said that Mr. Filarski sent the health board a map showing where the sanitary sewer lines are located in the village, and the engineer determines what properties are accessible to the sewer line based on the sewer’s capacity to handle additional sewage. Usually when sewers are installed, a municipality will send a list to the county health board to inform them what properties are now accessible to the sewer line, according to Mr. McConoughey. He said that it is possible that this step may have been overlooked.

“We’re willing to work with the homeowners,” Mr. McConoughey said.

There is a base fee of $3,639 to connect to the Creekside Pump Station and it increases 5 percent every year. In addition to this fee, there is another connection charge based on the type of user, according to the code. Residential units must pay $5,500 per home or residential unit. Under the old ordinance, residents had to pay the fee in a lump sum. Now, residents have the option of paying in a lump sum or entering into a three-year payment plan with the village with a 3-percent interest rate, according to the ordinance.

“One way we determined that we could ease that burden is by spreading out the cost of the tap-in fee over a three-year period,” Councilman David Emerman said.

Ms. Spencer said that the village needs to consider the impact of forcing this mandate on their residents.

“Things can be done, but at what cost?” she said. “This is a huge hit.”

Village officials met with the county health board this week to further discuss the sewer tie-in mandate and to clarify what it means to be accessible to the sewer line.

Julie Hullett has been a reporter for the Chagrin Valley Times since August of 2018 and covers Gates Mills, Hunting Valley, Moreland Hills, Orange, Pepper Pike and Woodmere. She graduated from John Carroll University with a journalism degree in 2018.

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