MARIETTA - The Washington County commissioners have been approved for a zero percent interest loan through the Ohio Public Works Commission for a project that requires homeowners in a Belpre subdivision to pay thousands of dollars to connect to a new sewer system.
Affected residents have urged the commissioners to take that funding option now and move forward with the project this summer rather than rejecting it, reapplying for the loan next year and risking not getting it.
All of the residences in the subdivision are on a septic system; however, the project only directly involves the 22 homes that are tied into a common collection pipe. The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency has ordered the commissioners to establish a sewer system for those 22 residences to tie into, saying use of a common collection pipe is illegal because it presents health concerns.
Washington County sanitary engineer John Grosse said the Ohio EPA has indicated the project must begin by July 2013 regardless of whether the commissioners have secured funding for it.
"We asked the people on the common pipe if they wanted the county to accept the zero interest loan and the consensus was overwhelming: let's take the zero interest loan and move ahead," Grosse said. "The other option would have been to turn it down and to reapply again next year in hopes of getting a similar deal...the downside is we may not have gotten funded and the rate would've gone to $12,000 per house."
The commissioners are accepting the loan they've been offered, meaning homeowners will each have to pay between $4,000 and $6,000 to tie into the new sewer system.
The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency has ordered the Washington County commissioners to eliminate a common collection pipe which 22 residences are connected to and establish a sewer system to tie those homes to.
The commissioners have secured a zero percent interest loan through the Ohio Public Works Commission for the project. They will advertise for bids in June, the funds will become available on July 1 and construction will begin in July.
Grosse said construction bids will determine exactly how much homeowners will have to pay. He noted they do have the option of adding the fee to their property taxes and paying it over a 20-year period.
"The funds become available July 1 of this year," Grosse said. "We'll probably advertise for bids in June and construction will start sometime in July of this year."
Affected residents will also have to pay the county's monthly sewer fee, which is $56.
The project is one that has been met with quite a bit of controversy and objection from residents in the subdivision.
Robert Hall, 68, is among those who lives in a home tied to the common pipe. He said he thinks the project has been mismanaged from the start.
"They've had five or six different plans. The first time they said the whole neighborhood, then the common pipe people...if the project is needed what they should have done is involved community people and sat down and talked about the plan and everybody agreed on the plan but it's been a yo-yo through the whole thing," Hall said.
Commissioner Cora Marshall acknowledged that the commissioners initially thought all of the roughly 50 residences in the subdivision would have to be tied into a new sewer system.
"When we received the letter (from the Ohio EPA) we thought everyone in the Woodlawn development was tied into a common pipe," she said.
Although the commissioners were approved for a $900,000 zero percent interest loan through the Ohio Public Works Commission, that was the amount it was expected to cost to connect all homes in the subdivision to a new sewer system. Grosse estimated it will cost a total of $650,000 to connect the homes now tied to the common pipe.
Woodlawn Acres resident Jeff Stewart, who is tied to the common pipe, said he doesn't like the idea of paying $56 a month for sewer service, especially when his parents living in the City of Belpre pay about $41 a month for water, sewer and trash service.
He isn't fond of the one-time connection fee, either.
"If it's something the state of Ohio is requiring, why can't the state of Ohio figure out where to get the money and say 'We're going to finance the whole thing?'" said Stewart, 37.
Grosse noted that there are about 10 homeowners who have indicated they would like to be tied into the new sewer system even though they are not connected to the common pipe.
Perley Hill, a resident of the subdivision since about 1968, is among those who has volunteered to be connected to the new sewer system.
"The line is going to go through the border of my property so I'd only be 20 feet from it so it's a no-brainer," he said.