Some homeowners are skeptical that sewage is coming from their system.
By STEPHEN SIFF
VINDICATOR TRUMBULL STAFF
BROOKFIELD -- Trumbull County Health Department officials did not test all the septic systems they ordered residents to improve in advance of a $1.3 million road project.
"We are trying to save them money," said Frank Migliozzi, the health department's director of environmental health. "They were destined for failure."
At the end of last month, 30-day orders were sent to 29 township residents, primarily on Wood and Strimbu streets, who the health department says have septic systems that drain into a state Route 7 ditch.
The homeowners were told to install chlorination units on their septic tanks and have them pumped immediately and then again every six months.
The orders were prompted by an Ohio Department of Transportation project to widen state Route 7 at state Route 82 and replace the ditch with a buried pipe.
ODOT did not want contractors working in the highly contaminated ditch and did not want the sewage-contaminated water to become part of their system after the project is complete.
The road project is scheduled to begin this month.
Some residents say they resent having to put $600 to $800 into septic systems that are scheduled to be replaced by sewers in two or three years, and while they agree the ditch is filthy, some homeowners are skeptical it's coming from them.
Gary McElrath of Wood Street said he got one of the 30-day orders even though the health department dye-tested his septic system last June and did not find evidence that he is discharging waste into the ditch. The health department is reviewing his case, he said.
Any orders that were given in error, the health department will revoke, Migliozzi said.
Most of the septic systems subject to the health department orders were designed to discharge treated waste, but even if they were perfectly maintained and operating to original specifications, the waste they discharge would not meet today's standards, health department officials say.
Testing each system would cost the homeowner between $350 and $500 each, between lab fees and the expense of digging a test well, Migliozzi said.
"It would be like testing to see if a Model T has air conditioning," said Dr. James Enyeart, the health commissioner. "With no treatment for the home septic systems, ODOT will put on a cap where they enter the ditch and that will cause great homeowner distress."
There is no grandfather clause for old septic systems.
"I think this is just another oppressive government bureaucracy," said Tim Gladis, who lives on Wood Street. "They have known about this problem for 20 years and now they are ordering us to fix it in 30 days."
Officials had worked out another solution to sanitize the ditch water during construction and until septic sewers go in two to three years from now, said Tom Holloway, the county sanitary engineer. A proposal to treat ditch water with lime was rejected by ODOT higher-ups.
The health department orders also sting because residents worry that they will be forced to pay again to hook into sewers when they become available. Whether, or how much, residents will have to pay then depends on if the sanitary engineer's office wins some of the grants it has applied for to pay for the estimated $660,000 project, Holloway said.
Homeowners are not going to be assessed for the project according to their frontage, but some eventually may have to pay to install septic lines from their house to the road, he said.