By Ed Runyan
Over the past decade, the phrase “septic tank” has struck fear and loathing into the minds of many Trumbull County residents.
After years of lax regulation, the Trumbull County Health Department in 2002 revised its regulations governing home sewage-treatment systems, resulting in an increase in the number of systems being replaced and an increase in the cost.
Adding insult to injury, the regulations also required many property owners to live with a large, square, concrete box called a sand filter — many times in the home’s front yard.
In one of the more publicized cases, the owner of a home on Hoagland- Blackstub Road in Bazetta Township said the construction of a sand filter in front of her house in 2006 made her think it looked “like a bomb went off.”
But in one neighborhood in Champion Township, residents have found creative ways to make peace with their sand filters — covering them with bricks, hiding them with shrubs, and even decorating them with fencing materials that help the filter blend in.
Brad Ridgeway of Shaffer Road bought his house in 2005. Like many homes that were sold at the time, Ridgeway’s house had to have an updated septic system, including a sand filter.
Ridgeway says he was fortunate that he had several months to help the contractor plan for the construction of his $12,000 septic upgrade, and he made the best of it by designing a mini picket fence that he attached on three sides.
“I think the neighbors appreciate it a little bit,” Ridgeway said of his unique design, saying it improves the appearance of the whole neighborhood.
By contrast, there’s a home down the road that received a new septic system about the same time as Ridgeway’s, and it has all of the aesthetic appeal of a garbage dump.
It stands about 3 feet high, is close to the road, and nothing was done to hide it.
Ridgeway says he believes that system was chosen by the seller with no input from the buyer and therefore was done the cheapest way possible.
Perhaps not coincidentally, that home currently is vacant.
Anthony and Vonda Macozzi of Airport Road say the concrete box in their front yard was there when they bought the house in 1999.
The shrubbery that hides the box, which is part of their septic system, also was planted before they arrived, Vonda said.
“I don’t like the type of shrubs, but it does such a good job of hiding it,” Vonda said.
The Macozzis don’t know whether their hidden septic box was inspiration for other homeowners or not, but the two houses to the east of theirs also have novel types of septic boxes — both are covered in brick.
Vonda said she thinks the brick boxes are among the most attractive ones she’s seen and gives credit to the owners of those houses for finding attractive ways to make them blend in with their surroundings.
“He wanted to make it look nice. He didn’t want people to ever feel it was an eyesore,” the resident of the house next door to the Macozzis said of the sand filter there.
She didn’t want to give her name or the name of the man who customized the system.
Frank Migliozzi, director of environmental health for the Trumbull County health department and Dr. James Enyeart, county health commissioner, said there are ways to improve the appearance of a sand filter that still meet the septic system rules.
“There are lots of opportunities in terms of cosmetics that still maintain the quality of the effluent we are looking for,” Dr. Enyeart said.
Migliozzi said the health department received approval around 2008 to allow two alternative systems to be used in Trumbull County — one called a peat system that has been popular among Amish homeowners because it doesn’t require the use of electricity, and one called a fabric media system.
Those and the sand filter cost a similar amount, and all three are being used in sizeable amounts, Migliozzi said. All three can be hidden from view equally well, he said.