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Norton facing sewer mandate

1/17/2013 - West Side Leader
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By John Benson

Summit County Public Health sets Jan. 22 public hearing on failing septic systems

NORTON — The contentious issue regarding the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) mandate to resolve contaminated runoff coming from certain areas in the city dominated the Norton City Council meeting Jan. 14.

In December, the city once again was informed by the Ohio EPA of a number of discharging and/or failing septic systems that were contributing to bacteria in the Wolf Creek watershed.

The city also received a letter Jan. 7 from Summit County Public Health stating the agency is considering declaring a public health nuisance in a portion of the Nash Heights neighborhood and on Brookside Court. A public hearing on the matter will take place Jan. 22 at 7:30 p.m. at Norton High School, 4128 S. Cleveland-Massillon Road.

The city has been dealing with this issue for years. In 2009, city officials received two letters from the EPA stating the city was in violation of the current mandates for runoff, after water-quality testing was performed, and a solution must be found.

During a special Norton Council meeting this past July on the issue, Norton Administrative Officer Rick Ryland said the EPA told the city in 2009 that about 70 percent of homes in Norton had failing home sewage treatment systems, and a plan to rectify the issue must be implemented or the city could face fines.

Ryland at the meeting stated Council approved a master plan in 1997 to have sewers put in for the entire city, so residents should not be surprised officials want to move forward with plans.

However, residents at that July meeting expressed concerns about the cost and asked the city to consider just fixing the septic systems responsible for the contamination, reminding officials that on-site elimination is acceptable by the EPA.

Ryland agreed but said the lot dimensions of most of the 326 parcels located in Nash Heights are not large enough for on-site elimination, which led to the recommendation to install the sewer system.

After that meeting, Council agreed to table the proposed sewer project until it can be evaluated for total cost, including assessments on residents, and all avenues for financial help have been exhausted.

At the Jan. 14 meeting, residents again voiced concerns to Council about the issue.

“When it comes to the sewer issue, we want you to advocate on our behalf,” said resident Steve Fannin, a member of the grassroots group Citizens 4 Norton. “We want an administration that will engage with the public. It’s not that we feel you’re always working against us; it’s that we feel you’re not always working for us.”

Council Vice President Todd Bergstrom (Ward 1) enlightened residents about a meeting various city officials had earlier in the day with the EPA regarding the sewer issue.

“The main goal was to get a little more direct understanding of options for sewers or replacements to failed septic systems,” Bergstrom said. “We talked about an MS4 permit. It’s basically the tool that [the] EPA uses to police and to implement requirements to keep our waters pollutant free.”

Bergstrom said EPA officials did say a standard septic system can be replaced, but it’s costly — including $1,000 annually — and not guaranteed to be in compliance five years down the road. He added that inevitably the sewer was going to be reality.

“The city has been working with the EPA for years trying to establish a plan, and by doing that it allows us to create our own plan,” Bergstrom said. “By being somewhat proactive and knowing we’re doing our due diligence by trying to plan, that’s keeping the EPA happy and keeping them from stepping in. We have been trying to look for options. What I hear from the EPA is there’s no other options for some lots other than provide a sewer.”

Councilman Dennis McGlone (at large), who also attended the EPA meeting, spoke directly to the concerned citizens in the audience.

“There’s no fix; it’s only replace,” McGlone said. “I walked into the meeting saying, ‘We have a city where people don’t have the money.’ They understood, but they said we were breaking the law. It’s illicit discharge, and there’s nothing they can do. This is the first time I have to say, it’s not the city. I have to tell you, I advocated on your behalf, and it’s those guys who are pushing it. It’s not the city. I don’t think there is anything the city can do. I think we have to get some kind of sewer moving to keep these guys happy. I think we should do a 20-year plan. If we don’t do anything, I’m telling you guys we’re in trouble. I learned a lot today.”

In other news, about a month after Norton City Council President Don Nicolard (Ward 2) appointed an ad hoc committee to help facilitate compliance of the recently passed charter amendment requiring all meetings to be televised, the group presented its recommendations.

The problem is it appears the city is seemingly no closer to moving forward with either cable broadcast or webcasting than it was when the residents approved the charter amendment change in November.

“We have done quite a bit of research,” said ad hoc group chairman Jack Gainer. “As chairman, we do not all agree on the same procedure to accomplish goals to broadcast meetings for the public.”

Gainer said he believed the citizens approved the charter amendment with the idea the Council meetings would be televised over cable television. He said he feels Norton getting back its PEG (for public, educational or governmental use) channel would benefit the city.

“I can think of hundreds of uses for a PEG channel,” Gainer said. “We never used it properly before. It can be used for little league, Cub Scouts and school meetings. Every kind of notification can be put on that channel, and once people got used to it, it would be well-utilized. It could be used all week long. It would be our channel.”

Agreeing with Gainer was Councilwoman Charlotte Whipkey (at large), who was also on the ad hoc committee.

“We could not recommend one [system] over the other,” Whipkey said. “It would be great if we could do both, but I don’t agree with webcasting. I’ve always advocated having it back on the television. The people I talked to thought it would be on television. I agree with Mr. Gainer. I think that how we use that channel as far as cable is concerned, it could be a great advocate for all aspects of the city and not just Council meetings.”

Committee member Michelle Baker disagreed and said she believed webcasting would suffice the citizens’ desires to have the Council meetings televised.

“I want to get the most cost-effective method,” Baker said. “I don’t think the [answer] is going to be just cable broadcasting. Only 46 percent of people in Norton have cable.”

Later Law Director Peter Kostoff told Council and audience members he would look at the charter provision and attempt to reach an understanding of what people intended when they passed it.

“I’m going to have to try to deduce whether both of these vehicles meet the televised language,” Kostoff said. “Cost is not really my concern. My concern is, how do we comply with the people’s will? From what I’ve listened to tonight, this should be a fun job because someone potentially won’t be happy with the decision I make.”

Nicolard asked Kostoff to present coordinating legislation when he gives his opinion.

Kostoff said he’ll offer his opinion and then await instructions from Council.

Nicolard said a decision on how the city will be moving forward regarding the televising of city Council meetings must be made in the first week of February.

In unrelated news, a new City Council meeting schedule has been approved. It’s currently posted on Norton’s website at www.cityofnorton.org.

Council met for a special meeting yesterday, Jan. 16, to continue discussion of the sewer issue and to meet in executive session. Details of the meeting were not available at presstime.

The next regular Council meeting is set for Jan. 28 at 7 p.m. in Council Chambers at the Safety-Administration Building, 4060 Columbia Woods Drive.

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