PREBLE COUNTY — After receiving a letter from CDM Smith, regarding upcoming field survey work, several concerned citizens spoke on Sewer District Six (SD6) during the Preble County Commissioners’ meeting on Monday, April 20.
The letter read, “Preble County intends to design and construct a new sanitary sewer collection and treatment system in the Glenwood area, generally bounded on the west by Woodside Drive and on the east by Stover Road. County Auditor records indicate that you own property in the project area. Accordingly, we wish to advise that it will be necessary for field survey crews to enter upon your property to obtain the necessary field data needed in connection with this project. Sections 5517.01 and 163.03 of the Ohio Revised Code authorize such entries.”
The letter continues to provide necessary information on the work, including contact information for Choice One Engineering, whom will be performing the specified work. The letter also informs property owners that within the next two months crews from PSI Geotechnical Engineering will be performing geotechnical investigations by way of soil boring samples. This work will occur within the public street right-of-way and will not impact individual’s properties.
Resident Tim Lovely spoke about what he considers to be safety issues on his property due to sewage flowing through the creek on his yard. “The thing that really sticks with me is that for over 30 years, I have been paying a yearly fee, the health department comes out, they inspect my system. For 30 years I’ve had to maintain my system and within about a year and a half, two years ago, I learned that other people who are awfully close to me obviously are able to do things that I’m not allowed to do,” he said. “The creek that feeds Bantas Creek is just an open drainage ditch. That runs through my property.
“I had a gentleman out at my house, he had a little boy with him — his son with him — and we were out in the yard. We looked down there and the next thing we knew he was down there playing in the creek. We’d been talking, didn’t realize he got down there. You got to get your boy out of that creek, it is not safe for him to be in that creek, because it is obviously contaminated. This is personal to me, this isn’t just my neighborhood — this is my property.”
Jerry Wick saw this as a “threat” to force him to allow crews onto his property.
“Some of the citizens here today and outside the room got a letter this week from CDM Smith. They didn’t even have enough respect for us to put their email on there, because I tried to send them an email. First paragraph, they threaten the homeowners of Preble County that if we don’t allow field survey crews entering our property, sections 5517.01 and 163.03 of the Ohio Revised Code, that we’re breaking the law if we don’t allow them on private property,” he said.
“Section 5517 was enacted in 1966, section 163.03 was enacted in 1973. So, you have 50 year old sections of the Ohio Revised Code that they’re trying to threaten us with. How many laws and statues have been broken in the last 11 years by the Health Department and our Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, concerning that trailer park in Glenwood. Nobody has done a damn thing about it! I’m here to tell you today, that this stops today. Here is 11 years of ineffective leadership by our commissioners, right here.
“I’m telling you today, I’m serving notice to you, the Prosecutor, the Sheriff’s Office, and CDM Smith and their contractors, they will not come on my property. I will use any means necessary to keep them off my property. If I get arrested, so be it, but the truth is coming out, boys, ladies.”
West Alexandria business owner and resident Dave Weber asked the Commissioners several questions, including where the money for the survey came from.
Commission President Denise Robertson answered, “We applied for and were granted money for the design from the Army Corps of Engineers. So, it is tax payer money.”
Weber asked why the survey was being conducted and Robertson said it was for the design of the treatment plant.
“From a layman’s term, I’m sitting out here and thinking, they’re gonna survey all these properties so they can condemn all our septic systems. It doesn’t even apply to me, my home isn’t in it, yet. They can condemn all these systems and then all these people, all these 261 people, have to do it. That is what it looks like from the outside,” Weber said.
Robertson explained, “We were given a court order. We did not sit down up here and decide that we wanted to do this. We got a court order based on an investigation the Ohio EPA did in 2010. They sampled the water in 2010 and then four years later they sent us findings and orders that we were to do something about it. We didn’t sit up here – this was done to us also. We are up here trying to defend the property owners, because I’ve been saying all along that if there is a problem on someone’s property, that is their problem, the property owner’s problem. It is not your neighbor’s problem.
“We have been trying to figure out a way to resolve this and keep the EPA – when this happened and they gave us the findings and orders, we didn’t have any money to go and design anything. All we were ordered to do was design something that was affordable. We didn’t have any money to do that. What we did, was we responded to them and said we would look for a way to fund that design. In the meantime, while we were looking for a way to fund the design, we hurt the EPA’s feelings and so they turned us into the Attorney General. So now, this has turned into a court case with the Attorney General, EPA, and us.
“We got the grant and the grant is just to design something. We said we would design something to fix this. Because we were told at the beginning, because what we did, what first happened, was we wanted to re-test. Because these tests were taken in 2010. They waited until 2014 to tell us, so it couldn’t have been an emergency. It was just labeled a nuisance, it wasn’t a health emergency. We retested and our testing found that some of the places they were showing as hot spots were no longer, they had moved.”
She added, this was something “thrust” upon them and they’ve been trying to handle the situation to the best of their abilities.
Other citizen complaints included:
•Preble County Public Health and what many see as a lack of response from that entity.
•Many citizens in the project area are retired on on a fixed income and may not be able to afford SD6.
•The project area having been expanded over the history of the design process.
Representative J. Todd Smith also attended the meeting and spoke to the commissioners.
“If we can see that a few people are causing the problem, we should have been able to deal with that, but I think we’re past that. I think that is the rub of this. I think everybody has to admit there has just been failures on numbers of fronts. The EPA doesn’t come down here and fix the sewage system. I’ve done this work for 10 years, I’ve worked in underground utilities, I’m approved to do all this kind of work,” he said.
“I’ve never seen a local department that when an issue is pointed out that you have a definite pollutant happening, that local department doesn’t step in and deal with it immediately. So I think there’s a dropping the ball on their part of dealing with that locally. As you all know, when the EPA steps in they’re going to point out the problem and say get it fixed. I think the EPA has dropped the ball a bit. If they’ve known for years — and I told them this last week on the phone with their liaison, so I was on the phone with the EPA and the AG’s office last week — if you’ve known for 10 years there’s been a problem and you haven’t forced a solution yet, when that is your job, somebody at the EPA has dropped the ball.
“I think as you all know, you’ve been in conference with the EPA. They had reached out to your office numerous times over a period of months and didn’t get a response. When I talked to them they said, ‘Listen, we felt like this was our last option.’ I would love to see the communication start back up outside of the litigation and if there is anything I can do to do that, I will.”
Reach Kelsey Kimbler at 937-683-4061 or on Twitter @KKimbler_RH