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Meeting over Devola sewer project looms

DEVOLA — Devola residents have options to consider before attending Tuesday’s public meeting hosted by the Washington County commissioners.

The meeting comes just days after a Thursday evening meeting in which Devola residents were invited to hear from an attorney about their options in fighting the sewering of the community.

“I have not been hired yet, so I don’t have a client,” said Environmental Lawyer Greg DeGulis on Friday, confirming his potential involvement locally would only be in response to the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency orders to sewer Devola, not the city’s coinciding lawsuit against the commissioners including both Devola and Oak Grove.

DeGulis was invited by Glen Pawloski, of Devola, to speak with residents Thursday in a closed meeting at the Ohio 821 community center in the Broughton Complex.

“The next step is whether that group wants to organize in some fashion,” DeGulis explained.

Residents have the option of forming a limited liability corporation, nonprofit or to individually hire the attorney or another to represent their interests and enter the current court case the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency and Attorney General’s office won against the Washington County commissioners last year.

Their second option is to wait until the commissioners receive a final permit to install the ordered sewer line in the east Muskingum Township suburb and then submit an appeal.

“This (order) is somewhat unique in terms of size. Usually, these projects are smaller,” said DeGulis. “Generally, when orders come out, it’s not this many homes, the scale is rather unusual.”

DeGulis said if the estimated 200 residents who attended Thursday’s meeting or a group of them were to hire him, the next step would be further research the residents’ options in the case.

“It’s difficult to comment on their likelihood of success,” said Washington County Prosecutor Nicole Coil. “I would find it hard to believe that any private action at this point would reverse the court order to follow the EPA DFFO.”

Coil said she worries whether residents contributing to private legal fees would then see less opportunity for grant aid through the project.

“I think if this had happened four to five years ago, there might have been a chance, but not after the comment period for the final orders,” she said. “I don’t see the court reversing their decision at this point. I’m also concerned if the residents have the funds to hire an attorney. The perception might be they don’t need aid (which may) minimize our ability to advocate for them effectively.”

Timing, DeGulis said, is a factor to consider.

“It’s certainly a valid point to ask whether Devola is too late,” he commented — though he would not say whether the same is true for residents of Oak Grove across the Muskingum River. “I’ve not met with any Oak Grove residents.”

Oak Grove is not currently under Ohio EPA orders to sewer. However, testing has been conducted in the suburb on the western side of the Muskingum River.

Currently, Oak Grove only is involved as an impacted subdivision in the city lawsuit per the 40-year intergovernmental agreement to add flow from the two suburbs for treatment at the renovated city wastewater plant.

Legal Counsel Matt Dooley, for the city, said while the Devola private group gathering was not directly discussing the city case, he is concerned about potential misinformation shared behind closed doors.

The commissioners are scheduled to hold a public meeting to discuss the next steps in the county plan to sewer Devola Tuesday at 6 p.m. in Graham Auditorium at Washington State Community College.

Janelle Patterson can be reached at jpatterson@mariettatimes.com.

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