Number of sewer projects mounts
Seven priority projects have a price of $31 million.
By ED RUNYAN
VINDICATOR TRUMBULL STAFF
WARREN -- Trumbull County officials are working on the most high-priority nonsewered areas in the county to satisfy Ohio Environmental Protection Agency demands, while also taking steps to begin 17 additional sewer projects requested by homeowners.
"It's a lot of work by this department, but it's a service this county deserves," Sanitary Engineer Gary Newbrough said of the 17 projects -- known as "petition projects" because they involve residents' asking the county that sewers be installed at the homeowners' cost.
Newbrough, who became sanitary engineer in April 2004, said the reason for the enormous number of petition projects is the crackdown by the Trumbull County Board of Health on home septic systems.
"All of these people have septic problems, so the neighbors will get together and put together a petition," Newbrough said. Paying for sewers avoids the cost of upgrading septic systems, he noted, adding that the sanitary engineer's office has not built any petition sewers since about 2000.
Newbrough's assistant sanitary engineer, Rex Fee, says the exploding number of petition projects seems at times overwhelming.
Fee, who has worked there 23 years, added that petition projects in the past were typically limited to projects with a large number of homes. Projects being considered now have as few as 12.
One option used by neighbors in the past was for an appointed leader to organize a sewer project on behalf of the neighbors and carry out the project privately. Such a plan would reduce costs because the steps required by a government body such as the sanitary engineer are more costly than a private project, Fee said.
He estimated building sewers privately saves as much as a third on the cost.
Dr. James J. Enyeart, county health commissioner, said he sees the increased number of sewer projects in the county as a good thing. He noted the number of such projects was lower during the first couple of years he was health commissioner in 2002-03.
"It's worlds better than it was," Dr. Enyeart said, adding that though it will be a monumental amount of work to build so many sewers, it needs to be done.
Dr. Enyeart concedes one reason county residents are so interested in petitioning for sewers now is because it buys the homeowner some time. Homeowners with failing septic systems frequently prefer to sign petitions to get a sewer line that is paid for over a number of years on a sewer bill, rather than pay a large amount to a contractor to build a new septic system.
Dr. Enyeart said his department is looking for the most-durable fix to the county's sewage problems, whether that is building traditional sewer lines, upgrading septic systems or something in between, such as a "package plant," which is like a minitreatment plant.
Enyeart said he is also grateful that Newbrough has been willing to look at alternative means for reducing sewage discharges into the environment, and has found him good to work with.
For example, before Newbrough, the sanitary engineer's office had proposed that the only viable way to provide a central collection system for the Lakeshore development on the west side of Mosquito Lake in Bazetta Township was to build a $3.5 million sewer line.
Newbrough has instead proposed a $1.5 million upgrade to the Sterling Drive package plant, which Dr. Enyeart said he believes will be an acceptable solution and a more durable fix than upgraded septic systems.
In a report to the county commissioners, Newbrough detailed seven sewer projects that the EPA rates as the highest priority in the county. Together, they will cost about $31 million and will take years to complete, Newbrough said.
They are Phase 2 of the McKinley Heights-Weathersfield project, Lakeshore Allotment in Bazetta Township; Scott Street project in Newton Falls-Newton Township; Meadowbrook project in Warren Township; Elm, Johnson-Plank and Bazetta roads project in Bazetta Township; Kinsman Village-Kinsman Township project; and state Route 305-McCleary-Jacoby Road project in Bazetta.
In all, these projects have a price tag of $31 million, Newbrough said, and early steps have been taken, such as having preliminary engineering work done.
In 2002, the EPA sued the county over failing septic systems in the McKinley Heights area of Weathersfield Township. The EPA said at the time said the county had 15 areas called "unsewered areas of concern" and wanted them all to be addressed as soon as possible or additional litigation could result.
Coincidentally, a public hearing was held last week on a $600,000 grant application for the McKinley Heights sewer project, which will cost $2.6 million and serve about 150 homes. Another public hearing is scheduled for 7 p.m. June 28 at Niles McKinley High School, and the project is expected to be under construction sometime this summer.
Dr. Enyeart said the health department has added onto the list of 15 "areas of concern" since then, and the list now contains about 22 areas. Newbrough's list contains about 25 areas, most of which are years away from being built because they have no funding source at this time.
Erm Gomes of the EPA's Twinsburg office said Trumbull County's septic-sewage problems are somewhat more serious than some other Ohio areas because of the type of clay soil close to the surface, and the number of neighborhoods where hundreds of homes are served by septic systems.
He added that the local health department has taken a "very proactive stand in identifying and limiting future failing systems" since 2002.