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Norton residents question sewer costs at hearing

1/24/2013 - West Side Leader
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By Kathleen Folkerth

NORTON — Sewers could be brought to Norton’s Nash Heights neighborhood as early as 2015 should the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) agree that it’s the next necessary step, county health district officials said during a public hearing Jan. 22.

But that timeframe didn’t sit too well with most of the residents who attended the hearing, who wanted to know more about how much the extensive project would cost and why the need to proceed is so urgent.

About 200 people filled one side of the Norton High School gymnasium during the hearing presided over by Summit County Public Health (SCPH) officials.

Ryan Pruett, a supervisor in the Water Quality Program of the SCPH’s Division of Environmental Health, outlined the reasons why the health district plans to declare a public health nuisance in a portion of the Nash Heights neighborhood and on Brookside Court.

Pruett’s 30-minute presentation included information on SCPH’s testing last summer of outfalls, which are man-made structures or ditches that collect water and then empty into a natural branch of water. Out of 113 citywide samples, six of nine in Nash Heights came back with readings of fecal coliform that were high enough to be declared a nuisance, Pruett said.

He added a nuisance is “any condition of sewage or effluent that is potentially injurious to the health and safety of a person.”

Also, Pruett told the audience about the number of failing septic systems in the area that were discovered by SCPH. He said there were 148 systems examined. Among those, 60 were of unknown functioning, mostly due to age, he said, while 65 were functioning, and 18 were considered to be failing.

He noted that replacing those systems with new systems is not feasible because of the small lot sizes and poor soil conditions.

Pruett said he anticipates that SCPH will recommend this spring that the Ohio EPA declare the area a nuisance, which they could do after conducting their own tests of the area. Once that is completed, it would take about two years for sewers to be constructed in the area, he said.

Following the presentation, officials took audience comments but did not respond to the speakers. Instead, responses will be posted on the SCPH website and available at Norton City Hall in about 30 days, Pruett said.

Among those who commented was resident Rick Rodgers.

“The problem here is I don’t trust Norton City Council,” Rodgers said to vocal cheers and applause. “Give us a grace period of a year so the city and residents can get together to address the problem with facts and figures, and maybe we can get a grip.”

Other speakers wanted more information about how the outfall samples were obtained, and some raised concerns that the extension of sewers in one area would lead to sewers in others.

The hearing took place following the Ohio EPA’s Dec. 31 letter to the city, which asked for a response to include “a schedule and plan to resolve the illicit and unsanitary condition of discharging sewage to the storm sewer system in the city.”

During a special Council meeting Jan. 16, Council voted 5-2 to authorize Mayor Mike Zita and city administrators to move forward on negotiating a schedule with the Ohio EPA. Council members Charlotte Whipkey (at large) and Bill Mowery (Ward 3) cast the dissenting votes, according to Council Clerk Karla Richards.

Norton officials and residents have 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 and a solution must be found.

During a special Norton Council meeting last 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 that time 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 sewers.

After that meeting, Council agreed to table the proposed project until it can be evaluated for total cost.

During the Jan. 16 special meeting, Council voted to take the issue off the table and then voted to allow the mayor and administration to respond to the EPA.

Pruett said residents could continue to submit comments and questions to the health district on the issue. He can be reached Mondays through Fridays between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. at 330-926-5645 or by email at rpruett@schd.org. The website is www.schd.org.

Norton City Council will meet Jan. 28 at 7 p.m. for a regular meeting in the Safety-Administration Building, located at 4060 Columbia Woods Drive.

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