Sunday, February 15, 2004

Irate homeowners resist expensive sewer systems

By Reid Forgrave
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Tom Kent and some of his Colerain Township neighbors are protesting a county health department ruling that could force them to replace their septic tanks with expensive sewer lines.
The Cincinnati Enquirer/CRAIG RUTTLE

A neighborhood of two dozen $180,000 homes on half-acre lots here has been told to replace its septic tanks with sewer lines, after being declared a public-health nuisance.

But residents on Cranbrook Drive are crying foul.

They say the cost - which could exceed $30,000 for each resident - is unrealistic for a middle-class neighborhood in which half the homeowners are retired.

Residents say the odorous, black sewage that is stinking up the area is the result of a broken septic tank in only one of the homes - which they say the health department should have caught in its yearly inspections.

The other sewage systems on the block work just fine, neighbors say.

"If you need a new battery in your car, you don't chuck the car - you put a new battery in it," said Bernie Fiedeldey, a Colerain Township trustee who spoke to county commissioners on behalf of the Cranbrook Drive residents. "You're going to call these septic systems a nuisance because they broke, but these people aren't being given an opportunity to abate their nuisance. All they have to do is fix their current systems."

County commissioners are considering these protests, postponing from December to late this month or early March their decision on whether residents should be forced to put in sewers. They want to see if homeowners can come up with another, cheaper plan to fix their septic tanks.

Residents say they will update their septic systems with chlorinators that would make them function better, and they agreed to pay a private company to inspect the systems every four months.

"They're saying these sewage systems are outdated, but we can update them," said Tom Kent, who lives on Cranbrook Drive. "These are all over the county. They're going to put these new sewage lines in and we don't have a say in it. We are just requesting an opportunity to fix what's broken."

At the December commissioners' meeting, they also brought up the cheaper option of connecting their homes to sewer lines on adjacent streets.

The health district declared the area a health hazard after indicators of human waste were found in the creek in alarmingly high numbers.

But, since the waste is discharged in a common collector line, the county did not single out the one house causing the problem.

Residents on adjacent roads - which have sewer lines - say the odor as so bad they can't sit in their back yard during the summer.

"And the county commission said that, as public officials, they can't sit back and allow a public-health nuisance to occur and not do anything about it," said Bob Campbell, deputy director of MSD.

Campbell said the county must respect the concerns of all the residents.

Once the area is designated a health nuisance by the county health department, MSD is allowed to put in sewers without a majority vote of residents - but only if the county commissioners approve the plan.

Dawn Miller, who lives in the neighborhood in the northeast part of Ohio's largest township, spends much of her time - and money - caring for her 4-year-old granddaughter, Asia, who was born with multiple heart defects.

"They're forcing these sewers onto us, and lots of the people here are retired and just can't afford this cost," Miller said. "I'm struggling enough already, and here comes the local government and they throw this down on my scale. It's absolutely ridiculous."


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