UPDATE: Court orders Washington County to build sewer system in Devola

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MARIETTA, Ohio (WTAP) - UPDATE: 12/04/2018, 1:28 PM

A court order issued Thursday requires Washington County to immediately comply with a 2012 Ohio EPA order to build a sewer system servicing the entire Devola area.

That order was issued on Thursday, Nov. 29, 2018, in Washington County Common Pleas Court, by Judge Linton D. Lewis Jr.

In Thursday's court order, the judge concluded, "there is no just reason for delay" of the September, 12, 2012 Ohio EPA Director's Orders, which required the Washington County Commission to construct a new sewer system in Devola, to connect existing sewers and direct sewage to the nearest wastewater treatment plant, by January 18, 2015.

As of November, 2018, Washington County had not started construction on the Devola sewer project.

In January, 2018, Washington County Commissioners rejected an Ohio EPA ultimatum that gave county leaders "one last opportunity" to accept the terms of a consent order presented to them on Oct. 24, 2017.

Separately, the city of Marietta sued county officials in December, 2017, accusing them of not holding up their end of the Ohio EPA agreement.

The trial for that lawsuit is set for June 3-14, 2019.

A .PDF file of the entire Nov. 29, 2018 court ruling can be viewed and downloaded in the "Related Documents" and "Related Links" sections of this story,

We'll have more on this developing story on WTAP.com and on WTAP News at 5, 6 and 11.

UPDATE: 5/16/2018 5:10 P.M.

Trial for the complaint filed by the state of Ohio against the Washington County Commission is set for April 8-12, 2019.

Trial for the suit filed by the city of Marietta against Washington County is set for June 3-14, 2019.

UPDATE: 03/02/218 12:15 P.M.

Ohio officials filed a complaint Friday against Washington County commissioners over the long-debated Devola sewer-extension project.

The complaint was filed in Washington County Common Pleas Court by the state of Ohio on behalf of the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency.

It cites the county's "failure to implement a general plan to construct a sanitary sewage system in the Devola area" that connects existing sewers and directs sanitary sewage flows to the nearest wastewater treatment plant.

In January, county commissioners rejected an EPA ultimatum that gave county leaders "one last opportunity" to accept the terms of a consent order presented to them on Oct. 24.

The county originally agreed to the project in September 2012.

Separately, the city of Marietta sued county officials last December, accusing them of not holding up their end of the agreement.

You can read the entire complaint in the .PDF file in the "Related Documents" section of this story.

We'll have more on this developing story on WTAP.com and on WTAP News at 5, 6 and 11.

UPDATE: 01/22/18 11:15 A.M.

Washington County commissioner have rejected an ultimatum from the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency to end a long-running dispute over extending city sewer service to the communities of Devola and Oak Grove.

Commissioners Rick Walters and Ron Feathers voted against accepting the EPAs ultimatum during a meeting Monday morning. Commissioner David White voted to accept the offer.

County officials received a letter from Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine's office on behalf of the Ohio EPA. That letter, in essence, gave
commissioners "one last opportunity" to accept the terms of a consent order presented them on Oct. 24.

The EPA maintains the project is necessary because of the high level of nitrates in ground and surface water tested from those areas.

The City of Marietta recently filed a lawsuit about against the county.

We'll have more on this developing story on WTAP.com and on WTAP News at 5, 6 and 11.

Update: 1/18/2018 5:40 P.M.

For years, residents of Devola have taken the Ohio EPA to task over findings of nitrates in groundwater samples, in claiming they're being forced to replace their septic tanks with a sewer system.

"(The Ohio EPA says) they feel it is coming from the septic system," resident Marcus Riley told a Washington County Commission meeting Thursday morning. "They say they couldn't define where it was coming from."

Not so, say current and former members of Marietta City Council, with whom Washington County signed an agreement to extend city sewer service to Devola and Oak Grove.

"The EPA came down and said you're going to have to build another plant," said current councilman Mike McCauley, also a council member when the agreement was approved, "and if you build another plant, you have to sewer Devola."

"The water sampling done in 2010 and 2016 by the EPA is consistent," argued former councilman and Marietta resident Roger Kalter. "It shows not only the nitrate, but it shows the E-Coli."

Dick Wittberg, the county's health commissioner, says he takes issue with the EPA's findings.

The agreement was signed by a previous county commission, and by a Marietta City Council whose members at the time included a current county commissioner.

Prosecutors say that could complicate efforts by the current commission to fight the EPA in court.

Said Prosecutor Kevin Rings: "It may be nothing more than, 'Washington County, did you sign an agreement back in 2012? Yes, you did. Have you complied with that agreement? No, you haven't.' BAM, you lose."

A current commissioner said he would not sign off on an agreement the Ohio EPA proposed last October, one it now calls "one last opportunity" to avoid large fines and a possible battle in court.

"I stand with the board of health and our director," said a defiant Commissioner Ron Feathers. "I stand for the rights of the citizens of Washington County to maintain their own property."

A decision whether to accept that offer is expected at a special meeting Monday morning, January 22, at 10 A.M.

Update: 1/16/2018

They've been sued by the city of Marietta.

Now, Washington County's commissioners are being told by the state of Ohio to finish a sewer project for the communities of Devola and Oak Grove.

The "one last opportunity" comes in a letter to the county from the Ohio Attorney General's office, on behalf of the state's environmental protection agency.

It says, in part that the Ohio EPA is offering Washington County's commissioners "one last opportunity: to accept the terms of a consent order presented them on October 24th, 2017.

"Ohio EPA is offering your clients one last opportunity to accept the terms of the consent order presented on October 24th, 2017, and provided in draft form with you in this letter.

To reiterate, that would entail completing sewer construction of Lawton road by July 1, 2020.
The rest of Devola, as outlined in the original 2012 Director's findings and orders, by July 1, 2025, with no civil penalty attached."

The Ohio EPA maintains the project is necessary due to the high level of nitrates in ground and surface water tested from those areas.

The letter notes the commission passed on a chance to seek state funding for the project in 2014, although low-interest loans are still available.

Commissioner Ron Feathers says the board plans to discuss and take action on the letter and it orders at the commission's meeting Thursday morning.

Update: 1/10/2018

Washington County Commissioners met Wednesday afternoon in executive session to discuss a lawsuit by the city of Marietta over sewer service expansion.

Commissioner Ron Feathers says no decisions were made or votes taken after the closed-door meeting. The commission meets again Thursday morning at 9 A.M.

Update: 1/4/2018 4:30 P.M.

In a response to a suit filed in December, the Washington County Commission disputes claims by the City of Marietta that the county hasn't lived up to its part of a 2011 agreement to expand the city's sewer system to serve two outside neighborhoods.

In a news release issued Thursday, the commissioners deny a claim by the city that the county owes operating and administrative costs of the project.

The commissioners say all they owe is a more than 11% share of the cost of expanding Marietta's wastewater treatment plant to serve the towns of Devola and Oak Grove.

The commission says the maximum cost to the count was originally estimated at $25 million. That cost, according to the city, has now risen to more than $30 million.

Update: 12/22/2017 6:15 P.M.

Washington County and the city of Marietta are headed to court, over plans for a sewer system for the community of Devola.

The city and county entered into an agreement in 2011, in which Marietta would enlarge its treatment plant to treat wastewater from Devola and Oak Grove.

But the city says Washington County has not lived up to its part of the agreement.

That agreement includes paying the city its share of the project's capital costs and connecting to the city's sanitary sewer system.

Marietta seeks a financial judgment, and a court order directing Washington County to perform those tasks.

In its suit, the city's attorneys say wastewater from the septic systems and dry wells is either untreated or inadequately treated before it is discharged into the environment.

3/9/2017 4:45 PM.

Washington County's Prosecutors Office is now crafting a response to the Ohio EPA's requirement a new public sewer system be built in Devola.

The county wants to know more about the need for the system, and a state-required report on the project's economic impact.

It also wants the EPA to follow through with plans to hold a public meeting in Marietta about the proposed project.

"We just look at that as, is there really an environmental damage here?," said Commission President Ron Feathers, "or is it just regionalization; taking away the property rights of various communities, and forcing them to tie in to a metropolitan wastewater treatment plant."

The sewer system would also be connected to Marietta city's treatment plant.

Commissioner Feathers emphasizes the county isn't against the city's plans to upgrade its sewer facilities, but it is against the Ohio EPA's mandate.

Devola resident have disagreed for years with replacing their private septic systems.

3/6/2017 5:20 P.M.

Washington County Commissioners are considering their next move in a long dispute over a proposed sewer system in Devola.

Many Devola residents have told the commission they don't want a replacement to their current septic system.

This is a seven-year old controversy that began when the Ohio EPA found high nitrate levels in the town's sewer system.

The state EPA has now ordered the town to get a new sewer system, even though the commission says the nitrate problem has since been resolved.

Commission President Ron Feathers says installing the new sewer system would coast at least $6 million.

The commission plans to hold a meeting Wednesday with the county prosecutor's office to plan a response to the EPA's order.

They have until March 24th to respond to that order.


The city of Marietta is poised to take legal action in a long-standing dispute with Washington County over extending sanitary sewer services to Washington County communities.

City Council Thursday night approved a resolution authorizing the law firm of O'Toole, McLaughlin, Dooley and Pecora, Co., LPA as special counsel in the case.

The wording or the resolution authorizes City Attorney Paul Bertram III "to enforce the contractual obligations known as the Intergovernmental Agreement for Sanitary Sewer Services between the Board of Commissioners of Washington County, Ohio and the City of Marietta, Ohio."

At issue is a 2011 agreement for sewer services to the communities of Devola and Oak Grove. There have been numerous meetings since then involving the two parties and the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency.

The city contends the commission hasn't implemented the agreement -specifically the portion calling for replacing Devola's septic system with a public sanitary sewer system.

Also involved in the talks: residents of Devola who oppose any changes.

Mayor Joe Matthews Friday morning referred all questions to the attorney hired to represent the city, and to Bertram. Phone messages seeking comment were left with both officials.

The Washington County Commission issued a statement Friday afternoon on the situation.

"Current Washington County Commissioners have been, and continue to be open, ready, and available to discuss any aspect pertaining to the Intergovernmental Agreement for Sanitary Sewer Services entered into by the City of Marietta and Washington County in 2011. Regrettably, the City has been unwilling to do the same."

After giving several examples of dates where it says the city has not attended meetings or responded, the statement goes on to say:

"The City has yet to provide the County with a bill to pay. However, the County Commissioners stand by their continued commitment to pay the capital costs set forth in the Agreement, or the 11.7% capital contribution cost based upon proportionate use. In fact, the City has failed to make any good faith effort to call, meet, or otherwise discuss any aspect of the Intergovernmental Agreement with County Officials. It is disappointing that the City has chosen to authorize the use of precious taxpayer dollars, and unnecessarily escalate a situation, which likely could have been resolved by minimal effort on the part of the City."

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