WEST ALEXANDRIA — A public meeting was held on Thursday, Oct. 17, to discuss Sewer District Six (SD6) and share information with those who might be affected. The meeting was run by concerned citizen Jerry Wick, but featured input from State Represenative J. Todd Smith and Preble County Commissioner Rodney Creech.
Wick began by sharing history on the ongoing project.
On Nov. 19, 2009, Ohio EPA-Southwest District Office observed a discharge of untreated or partially treated wastewater in the Glenwood area in a storm drain discharging to a tributary of Bantas Fork. Ohio EPA took samples on May 26, 2010, and Aug. 7, 2013, at multiple sites in the Glenwood area. All but one sample tested over the limit of Escherichia Coli. The Preble County Health Department indicated there were four onsite sewage disposal complaints in Glenwood between August 2010 and July 2013.
However, Wick wanted to focus on the samples taken from the ditch east of the trailer park on Quaker Trace Road.
“The health department was responding to complaints. They indicated there were four on site sewage disposal complaints in Glenwood between August of 2010 and August of 2013,” Wick said.
Wick replied to a comment from Randy Gilbert, who was Sanitary Engineer at that time, stating the findings and orders require the county to submit to Ohio EPA for approval a general plan for sewage improvements or other methods of abating pollution and fixing the unsanitary conditions that are creating the public nuisance.
“That being said, the trailer park in question has no sewage treatment system. The trailer park has a 1,500 gallon hold. The EPA says that there are 12 trailers, they figure 300 gallons of wastewater and sewage per trailer — that is 3,600 gallons — going in to a 1,500 gallon holding tank,” Wick said.
“I’ve been over there. The holding tank overflow, someone has dug a ditch in the dirt, down the fence line, and it drains into the county ditch by Bantas Creek.”
According to Wick, on May 31, 2018, Gary Walker, with Preble County Health Department, sent a letter to Ohio EPA-Southwest District Office informing them of the 3,600 gallons at the mobile home park. Later that year, concerns were aired from Ohio EPA-Southwest Division regarding the use of clay tile and size of the holding tank at the trailer park.
Wick added, in October of this year, Health Commissioner Erik Balster sent a letter stating the trailer park was “in compliance.” Wick said, the trailer park replaced the clay tile, but still utilizes the same holding tank.
“Everyone wants to talk about the reason the E. Coli level is so high in Bantas Creek is because failing septic systems in Glenwood. That’s not true. Now, there are systems out there that need repaired and updated. That is no question, but that is a county issue. The problem is, there are 2,000 gallons a day of sewage going into Bantas Creek. The EPA is beating up the commissioners, because of high E. Coli count, and nobody wants to talk about the elephant in the room,” Wick said.
Wick also questioned how the trailer park would receive a license from the Ohio Department of Commerce with only a holding tank.
He continued, the Preble County Board of Commissioners have missed deadlines with this project and are being threatened with $15 million in fines.
“My suggestion to the Commissioners last month: since the Ohio EPA has been dumping sewage in that ditch since 2009 – along with the Health Department — they need to go back to 2009 and fine Ohio EPA $10,000 a day, plus the Health Department. Our Prosecuting Attorney’s office absolutely will not support any action by the Health Department,” Wick said. “I can find no evidence where any legal actions have been started with the trailer park or any health violations in that area.”
Wick is encouraging the Preble County Board of Commissioners to fight the EPA’s ruling and refuse to comply with SD6.
Commissioner Creech said, “If the EPA comes in and we don’t play ball, they’re going to slap a $15 million fine on us. We have $7 million in the bank. Now, we’re going to pay $15 and we still haven’t fixed the problem yet. I, as your county commissioner, am not going to bankrupt the county and pay hardball with the EPA, because we are going to lose.”
Wick also expressed his displeasure with discussions being held in executive session between the Preble County Board of Commissioners, Preble County Prosecutors Office, Ohio Attorney General, and Ohio EPA.
“Just to clarify,” Creech said. “We’re being sued by the State of Ohio Attorney General’s Office. With litigation — attorney client privilege all that — we’re in executive session, because we’re being sued by the state. There is nothing shady going on. I sat in here and fought this five years ago. I haven’t changed my opinion. Again, if we want to have Sheriff’s on the road and have services in the county, we can’t play hardball with the EPA. They will sue us and we will lose.”
Representative J. Todd Smith then took the floor to share what he’s learned through his research after meeting with the Deputy Director of Ohio EPA.
“There is a time to fight, but there is also a time to talk. Right now, I still think there is still an opportunity to talk with these people,” he said. “There seems to have been a breakdown of communication. The first conversation I made was to the attorney to which the referral was made to sue the county. She knows nothing about the issues on the ground here. We called the directors and it is going to be a few weeks because they’re rolling out the H2Ohio Plan and, as commissioner mentioned, there is a legal case going on, so I’m not allowed to mention a whole lot that goes on with that.
“The reason the referral [to sue Preble County] was made was because there was a breakdown of communication. They called the commission, talked to people, made phone calls and emails with no responses made. This was their last call. I still think we can get that lawsuit pulled off the table, if we open up the lines of communication.”
However, Commissioner Creech did not agree with Smith’s statement.
“That’s not true. There was a breakdown in communication between CDM Smith – The Register-Herald can report this. CDM Smith was not meeting deadlines. We were calling them and emailing them, and again, The Register-Herald has been there for every meeting. [CDM Smith] wouldn’t return our phone calls. I just want to clarify for the people here, because I don’t want to get misinformation out. There was no time [Ohio EPA] contacted our office and we didn’t follow up. It was between us and CDM Smith, ” he said.
Wick added, “I was at a commission meeting when they addressed that fact, that CDM was dropping the ball.”
Smith responded, “I’m just reading what they said. Somewhere there was a breakdown of communication. [We want to] start that back up and tell them there is no need to punitively and financially punish 260 residents of the Glenwood area.
“I do think there is a way to open up communication and resolve this. I asked them if they could pull the referral to the lawsuit and they said it can be pulled.”
Wick reiterated he thinks the trailer park should be shut down before anything else is done. Smith replied, conversations could be had once the lines of communication were opened once again. He invited Wick to a future meeting — possibly in Columbus — between parties involved.
Reach Kelsey Kimbler at 937-683-4061 or on Twitter @KKimbler_RH