EATON — After previously voting 1-1-1 to not sign a consent order concerning findings from the EPA’s lawsuit with Preble County regarding Sewer District 6 (SD6), the Board of Commissioners reversed course by bringing it back to the table and voting 2-1 to sign it during their regular meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 30.
The initial split vote took place during their meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 23, with Commissioner Chris Day voting to sign, Commissioner Denise Robertson voting not to sign and Commissioner Rodney Creech abstaining due to a perceived conflict of interest regarding land he and his family own within the footprint of SD6. Despite abstaining, Commissioner Creech made it clear he would vote to sign the consent order if he had the chance to do so.
After the vote on Sept. 23, Commissioner Creech said he received word from the Ohio Ethics Commission on Sept. 29 that there was no conflict of interest after submitting a request for a legal opinion.
“Last week, we voted to sign the consent agreement and at that time, I stated I would have signed it, but due to not hearing back from the [Ohio] Ethics Commission, I felt conflicted,” he said. “Now that it’s been confirmed that I do not have a conflict, I would like to request we vote again.”
He went on to reiterate his argument from last week’s discussion, stating that the county has been advised by its prosecutor and outside counsel to sign the consent order, and that if they do not, it could cost the county hundreds of thousands of dollars.
“I’m glad that I now get the opportunity to vote and save the county taxpayers their hard earned dollars, which could be approximately $200,000-300,000 in legal fees,” he said. “I’ve never been in support of Sewer District 6, and I’m still not. However, this is not about that. It’s about a lawsuit with the EPA and saving the county hundreds of thousands of dollars.”
Commissioner Day then made a motion to bring the consent order back to the table, which was then seconded by Commissioner Creech, and then put to a vote. Commissioner Creech and Day voted yes while Commissioner Robertson voted no.
Commissioner Day then moved to note receipt by signing the consent order, which was seconded by Commissioner Creech.
Before voting to sign the consent order, Commissioner Day made his stance clear again.
“We all are in the same position, unfortunately,” he said. “We are put in a position [that] I don’t think none of us like, but we didn’t have options going into this because the way EPA works, and the way this works is we’re put under fire. We’re on defense automatically.”
Commissioner Creech then added that he believes there are two ways the commissioners can handle this: signing it, or the expensive way.
“Either way, we end up the same point at the end of the road,” he said. “I think we work hard to save dollars for the county, and we need to continue to do that. I cannot see wasting a couple hundred thousand dollars on attorney fees when we’re going to end up with the same result.”
Commissioner Robertson then said the points she’ll be making are the same ones she made before.
“I do believe that we are betraying property owners by not defending them against government overreach from the state,” she said. “The argument that, ‘Oh, we’ll fight this later when it’s unaffordable…’ I don’t believe that for a minute. I don’t think there’s gonna be any fight, anywhere. The EPA is going to roll right in here and when they’re done with Glenwood, they’re gonna roll along to the next community. Fairhaven, New Westville, pick one.”
With no further discussion, the commissioners voted 2-1 to sign the consent order, with Commissioners Creech and Day voting yes and Commissioner Robertson voting no.
According to the consent order, of which a copy was obtained by The Register-Herald, the State of Ohio alleges that the Preble County Board of Commissioners are responsible for violations of water pollution control laws of the State of Ohio under Revised Code Chapter 6111, and that the Preble County Board of Commissioners deny all such allegations.
It goes on to say that compliance with the signed consent order would constitute full satisfaction of any civil liability of the Preble County Board of Commissioners to the State of Ohio alleged in the complaint.
According to the consent order, the Preble County Board of Commissioners are ordered to submit to the Ohio EPA within six months of the effective date of the order a “general plan for sewage improvements or other methods of abating pollution and correcting the unsanitary conditions in the Glenwood Area.”
Failing to comply with the requirements of the order would result in the Preble County Board of Commissioners paying up to $300 a day for the first 30 days of violation, $600 between 30 and 90 days of violation, and $1,000 per day beyond 90 days of violation.
The Preble County Board of Commissioners meet every Monday and Wednesday at 9 a.m. on the first floor of the Preble County Courthouse. These meetings are open to the public.
Reach Braden Moles at 937-683-4056 or on Twitter @BradenMoles