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EPA orders city to proceed on sewer project

9/19/2013 - West Side Leader
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By Kathleen Folkerth

Also, Norton City Council still weighing date of special election

NORTON — Norton officials have two weeks to respond to a letter from the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) ordering the city to proceed on a proposed sewer project in the Nash Heights neighborhood.

The letter from Ohio EPA Director Scott Nally was dated Sept. 13 and received by Mayor Mike Zita Sept. 16 via certified mail. It was the topic of discussion during a Utilities Committee meeting during that evening’s work session. The committee planned to continue the discussion today, Sept. 19, at 8 a.m. in Council Chambers, according to Council Clerk Karla Richards.

In the letter, Nally noted that unsanitary conditions have occurred in the city as a result of the discharge of pollutants from inadequate or failing home sewage disposal systems. The orders require the city to submit a general plan for abating pollution and correcting unsanitary conditions. He said the orders will “provide the city the flexibility in determining the most appropriate alternatives to abate the unsanitary conditions and achieve compliance with Ohio Revised Code Chapter 6111.”

If the terms of the orders are acceptable, city officials are to sign a waiver and return it to the EPA within 14 days of the order’s receipt, which would be Sept. 30. By signing the waiver, the city would waive its right to appeal the terms and issuance of the order, the letter states.

The city could also ask to negotiate changes to the orders by contacting an EPA official within 14 days as well, Nally wrote.

If the city does not respond by the deadline, Nally said the orders are withdrawn and the Ohio EPA would consider “other enforcement options to address the noncompliance including a referral of this matter to the Attorney General’s Office.”

Richards said Council heard from Roetzel and Andress attorney Terrence Finn, an expert on environmental compliance, who gave an overview of the order.

The order states that the city has six months to develop a plan and, once the plan is accepted by the EPA, it has a year to complete the project.

While city officials consider the EPA order, they also are continuing to wrestle with scheduling an election for another citizen-initiated ballot issue that would limit the amount spent by property owners for water and sewer improvements to $5,000.

During a special meeting Sept. 16, Council failed to pass a resolution to place the charter amendment on a special election ballot for Nov. 19, according to Richards. The vote was 2-5, with Council members Charlotte Whipkey (at large) and Bill Mowery (Ward 3) in favor of the date.

An effort during the Sept. 9 meeting to schedule a special election for Nov. 12 for the issue failed by a vote of 3-4, Richards said, with Councilman Dennis McGlone (at large) joining Whipkey and Mowery with a “yes” vote. Richards said five affirmative votes are necessary to set the election date.

She said the issue will be before Council during the Sept. 23 meeting for a second reading, but before that Council will have another election date to consider for the resolution.

“It has been highly suggested by the [Summit County] Board of Elections to use Feb. 4 of next year because they already have a special election slated for various issues, and it would be cost effective to wait to do that,” Richards said. “If we tried to do November or December, we would be paying premium manpower hours, more than what it cost us for the Aug. 6 election, which was close to $15,000.”

With the necessary three readings, the resolution would likely be up for a vote on Oct. 15, Richards said. The election must take place within 120 days of the resolution’s adoption.

The petition, circulated by resident William Paluch, states, “No city of Norton resident or property owner shall be assessed a total combined fee for construction of and connection to water and/or sewer lines in excess of $5,000. City of Norton residents or property owners currently paying assessments, who have paid a total combined fee of $5,000 or more for water and/or sewer lines, shall have future payments of their assessments paid by the city of Norton from the date this charter amendment is approved by the electors.”

Norton voters rejected a similar proposed charter amendment in the Aug. 6 Special Election. That charter amendment would have eliminated assessments for sewer and water lines and capped water and sewer charges.

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