The county could face more lawsuits from the EPA, an assistant prosecutor said.
By STEPHEN SIFF
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
WARREN -- Trumbull County taxpayers could be saddled with $58 million worth of sewer projects if the board of health does not do something about 15 neighborhoods targeted by the Ohio EPA, the board was warned Wednesday.
"All that I want, and the county commissioners want this board to do, is come to some sort of a position," said Jim Brutz, an assistant county prosecutor. "Set up a system of operation and maintenance regarding the monitoring of septic systems and the pumping of septic tanks on a regular basis."
The health department requires homeowners to conduct regular maintenance on septic systems installed after 1997, and even keeps track of their receipts, but has no program for the older septic systems more likely to fail, said Frank Migliozzi, director of environmental health.
The department has the authority to regulate the maintenance of systems in areas where septic problems exist, he said.
The health department has been aware of untreated sewage getting into ditches in the 15 neighborhoods for years.
In fact, several of the areas first came to the attention of the Ohio EPA because they were reported by health department officials, said Health Commissioner Vincent Catuogno.
"There needs to be a program established to correct some of the problems," Tom Holloway, the county sanitary engineer, told the board.
A lawsuit filed Friday by the Ohio EPA asking a local judge to force Trumbull County to add more sewer lines in McKinley Heights could just be "the tip of the iceberg" if action is not taken, Brutz said.
"If we do not look at these unsewered areas and get a group of the unsewered areas in order, the EPA will come down," he said.
To tackle the problem, health department staff will begin by creating detailed maps, with the hope of isolating exactly which homes or businesses are generating the sewage that's finding its way to surface water or streams, Migliozzi said.
The neighborhood profiles, which would include the number of bathrooms and bedrooms and the type of septic system installed in each home, would also be an aid to devising smaller, less expensive solutions to septic problems than extending sewer lines, he said.
Possibilities might include filtering septic system run-off, requiring residents to use water-saving devises or replacing a relatively small number of badly failing septic systems, he said.
The profiles will take years to complete.
Seeking required inspections
Catuogno asked the board consider requiring septic system inspections when properties are sold and forbidding the installation of some systems in problem areas or within a mile of Mosquito Lake.
The Mosquito Lake Association, a group of fishermen and boaters, says two ditches that empty into the lake are filled with foul water that it believes is the result of untreated sewage coming from homes in the areas of Housel-Craft and Everett-Hull roads.
Besides being one of the most active area resorts, Mosquito Lake is the drinking water source for Warren and some areas of surrounding townships.
The proposal will be considered at a later board meeting.
The health commissioner also asked the board to rescind a year-old motion which restricts his authority to set department policy because he says it "tied his hands" when dealing with problems.
The areas targeted by the Ohio EPA were not addressed earlier because of the disruption caused by frequent turnover in the director of environmental health position, Catuogno said.
In other business, the board voted to reprimand Catuogno for negligence in administering a contract with the Geauga-Trumbull Solid Waste Management District last year that would have reimbursed the health department for inspection work it did on the district's behalf.