County balks at multimillion dollar EPA demands for Glenwood sewage system

By Duante Beddingfield -

GLENWOOD — Preble County commissioners are hesitant to comply with an Ohio Environmental Protection Agency order to create a major sewer system in the unincorporated area of Glenwood due to the presence of E.coli in area water. Implementation of a sewer plan could cost Glenwood homeowners up to $6 million, a prospect commissioners want to avoid.

Escherichia coli, commonly known as E.coli, is a fecal bacteria typically found in the intestines of animals and humans. Its presence in water, according to Preble County’s Public Health & Wellness website, is a strong indication of recent sewage or animal waste contamination.

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 on-site sewage disposal complaints in Glenwood between August 2010 and July 2013.

On Jan. 27, 2015, the commissioners received a letter from the Ohio EPA.

The letter states the Ohio EPA Division of Surface Water has found violations occurring in the unincorporated area of Glenwood. Discharges of raw or partially treated sewage from failing septic systems in the area are causing a public health nuisance.

The letter, from Ohio EPA Director Craig Butler, proposes administrative orders which will require the county to comply with Ohio law by creating a general plan to sewer Glenwood, which is located in Twin and Lanier Townships between Eaton and West Alexandria, and drains to the tributaries of Bantas Fork.

County sanitary engineer Randy Gilbert said at the Feb. 2, 2015, commission meeting 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.” The general plan must contain alternatives for addressing the unsanitary conditions, proposed locations of collection and treatment facilities, cost estimates for the required improvements with cost effectiveness analysis of the alternatives including operation, maintenance and replacement costs, how it will be funded, and an implementation schedule that will result in completion of construction and the correction of unsanitary conditions.

“It’s very contentious,” said county commissioner Rodney Creech. “The EPA did testing from 2010 to 2013 and found E.coli in the water. They didn’t even tell us until 2015. So, here they are, looking for a problem for almost four or five years, and never told us that we had a problem, when we could’ve started working on it. Then, they slapped us in the face with a violation and gave us a time limit on fixing it.”

The Miami Valley Regional Planning Commission, Creech said, conducted a survey and reported a cost estimate that could balloon to between $4 and $6 million for residents.

“The people on the water system would be paying a monthly fee,” he said. “My stance from day one has been, ‘Let’s find out what the problem is and take care of the source.’ The EPA’s solution is, ‘Just fix it with a new sewer system,’ without discussion, and I don’t believe in that. I have a problem with that because they want to tax our constituents.”

The EPA took four water samples from Glenwood in May 2010 and twice in August 2013. In May of this year, the county commissioned an extensive series of 23 samples taken during wet weather and 22 samples taken during dry weather; each sample was taken from one of 23 locations in the area’s water flow. The tests were conducted by CDM Smith, a Cincinnati-based consulting, engineering, construction, and operations firm. Exclusive documents obtained by The Register-Herald show that of the 23 locations, all but five were well within EPA water safety standards. Of the outliers, three sample locations rated slightly above what is considered a public nuisance limit, and two showed significantly high E.coli ratings.

“We’re trying to find the hot spot,” said Creech. “The more you sample, the closer you get. The samples we had problems with, we can go and sub-sample those areas. It could be that there’s just a handful of properties that are causing these problems — and if we find that’s true, then we can go and just fix those problem areas. Maybe with new leach fields, maybe a smaller sewer system instead of a bigger one.”

“I’m not saying a system’s not needed,” he said. “I just don’t want to put one in that’s going to affect 300 homes if maybe only 15 people are causing the problem. If all of the samples came back at high numbers, Glenwood would be getting a new sewer system. That’s a no-brainer. But we really just have some outliers in the results, and my goal is to deal with this as locally as possible.”

Sample result data shows that, of the four locations tested by the EPA, numbers have dropped significantly in all but one since 2010.

“That tells me that it’s not a consistent thing,” Creech said. “I think we need to get some reliable, consistent data and not jump the gun.”

“I love Preble County,” he said, “and it’s my job as a public official to look out for the people of the county. If it’s possible that there’s another way to do this without everybody in Glenwood paying for it, I’m not just going to roll over.”

By Duante Beddingfield

Reach Duante Beddingfield at 937-683-4061 or on Twitter @DuanteB_RH.

Reach Duante Beddingfield at 937-683-4061 or on Twitter @DuanteB_RH.