Ohio Attorney General sues Washington County

MARIETTA — The Ohio Attorney General’s Office filed a lawsuit against the Washington County Commissioners Friday concerning the sewering of Devola.

The suit was filed the Washington County Court of Common Pleas as a complaint for injunctive relief and civil penalties.

This follows the county’s response after a heated public meeting Jan. 22 in which the commissioners told a gathering of more than 100 local residents that they would “not surrender” to the will of the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency. The suit was filed on behalf of the EPA.

“We knew when that vote took place they would be filing,” said County Commissioner David White. “I voted to accept the consent order but now we’ll see how this plays out. Our next step is to meet with our legal counsel to go over what’s next in the legal process.”

Commissioners voted 2-1 on Jan. 22 not to accept a consent order from the OAG that had offered a timeline to sewer the residences of Lawton Road by 2020, an estimated 62 residences, and the rest of Devola by 2025. Failure to comply with that final offer led to the current lawsuit.

Commissioner Ron Feathers said while the lawsuit “certainly wasn’t a surprise” he would not comment on the suit itself, referring all questions to county counsel, Assistant Prosecutor Nicole Coil.

Coil said Friday that she had yet to see the body of the suit and would not comment as to next steps for the county moving forward.

The lawsuit reverts its complaint to the initial 2012 orders to sewer Devola based upon Ohio EPA findings of “high levels of nitrate(s) in well water” linked to the improper disposal of human and animal waste.

It notes Sept. 12, 2012 orders to county commissioners to provide a general plan and implementation schedule by Sept. 2013 to treat sewage from the Devola are and implement that plan and schedule within two years of approval.

That plan was submitted by November of 2012 and approved on Jan. 18, 2013.

“The permit to install stated it would expire if construction had not been initiated within 18 months of approval which made July 18, 2014, the expiration date,” reads the lawsuit.

Work was never begun to sewer the unsewered portion of Devola in that timeframe and beginning Jan. 18, 2015 the Ohio EPA considered the commissioners out of compliance with legally binding Director’s Final Findings and Orders.

Because the consent order provided to commissioners on Oct. 24, 2017, was refused this past January, the OAG asks the Washington County Common Pleas Court in the suit to review the county’s liability for civil penalties of up to $10,000 per day for non-compliance beginning on Jan. 18, 2015.

As of March 2, that total penalty was $11.39 million. By May 2, the penalty could reach $12 million.

Previous discussions with the Ohio EPA and prior attorneys that worked with the Ohio Attorney General’s office to enforce Ohio EPA orders have noted that maximum penalties are rarely assessed but a court injunction could force the commissioners to sewer the area.

Feathers said at the Jan. 22 meeting that he was willing to fight the issue in the court and take it up through the appeals process if not successful in Washington County Common Pleas Court.

For an updated timeline of the sewer dispute the county has with the Ohio EPA and the coinciding dispute with Marietta City officials over the contract to sewer Devola and Oak Grove visit mariettatimes.com.