Residents with septic systems concerned over new sewer costs

Photo by Mike Sakal

Bill Meixner, a 43-year resident of Puth Drive, said he and his wife, Dolores, put their house up for sale because of the sewer situation.

AVON - The city plans to spend $5.3 million on two sewer projects that will eliminate 143 home septic systems, many that are fouling waterways with raw sewage.

One project, mandated by the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, will require 107 property owners south of Detroit Road between Jaycox and Nagel roads to abandon their septic systems and tie into the sewer system.

The state-mandated, $4.2 million project will eliminate aging septic systems, many that are failing and releasing untreated sewage that is polluting waterways that eventually empty into Lake Erie, where people swim and provides the region’s drinking water.

In the second project, Avon plans to spend $1.1 million to install a sewer line along French Creek Road, which will provide service to 165 homes and eliminate 36 septic systems on French Creek Road and Century Lane in the Briar Lakes neighborhood. Construction is planned to start next year.

But few homeowners are happy about the projects because of their costs. Residents of Elizabeth Avenue, Joseph Street, Puth Drive and a small part of Detroit Road are especially infuriated because they will have to pay between $24,000 to $31,000, costs outlined at a public meeting at Avon High School on Sept. 11.

"My biggest gripe is, this is something that should have been done nine or 10 years ago," Bill Meixner, a 43-year resident of Puth Drive, said in an interview later. "It would've been done and over with”

He and his wife, Dolores have put their house up for sale. He paid the required tap-in fee earlier this month, and paid the surcharge in 2008 when the city began to plan the project.

“If this would've been done a long time ago, it would've been cheaper,” he said. “Everything was cheaper 10 years ago. Out taxes are too high now."

For about 10 years, the city has considered installing sanitary sewers along Elizabeth, Joseph, Puth and a southern portion of Detroit fronting the neighborhood.

The city plans to start work in April and expects it to be done by mid 2021. The Ohio EPA mandated the work in April 2013 after water samples of nearby waterways, such as ditches and retention basins, showed high levels of E. coli, a bacteria from human waste that cause severe abdominal cramps, bloody diarrhea and vomiting. Samples showed levels exceeding allowable clean water standards by more than 4,000 times, creating a public nuisance, said Charles Allen, an environmental engineer for the Ohio EPA’s Division of Surface Water.

"For E. coli levels, that's very, very bad," said Mark Smith, a registered sanitarian for Lorain County Public Health. "Those levels make children and pets playing in the area more susceptible to intestinal illnesses. That's raw sewage in the stormwater in the ditches and winds up in Lake Erie. We've had a lot of beach advisories this year."

The Ohio EPA determined that septic tanks on these properties were no longer a viable option as some of them were failing, and ordered Avon to install sewers to replace them under the federal Clean Water Act. The Lorain County Public Health department and the Ohio EPA took water samples from surface water areas, which were deemed a public nuisance because the levels were so high.

Failing septic tanks are a decades-old problem throughout older cities in Northeast Ohio and across the nation. As they fail, sewers are installed where feasible because a centralized treatment system is a better way to remove the pollutants and ensure federal clean water standards are achieved.

Avon Mayor Bryan Jensen said the city has been putting together what it believes is the best plan economically and most fair for residents to meet the state requirement while also not overburdening homeowners.

"This has gotten to the point where the EPA has lost its patience with us, but we're doing the best we can," Jensen said. "We've looked at ways to see what the best option is economically for the residents who are affected by this, and will be required by law to tie in to the sanitary sewer system. We know this is causing a hardship. I don't like it more than anyone else, but it has to be done."

Avon City Council President Craig Witherspoon and his wife have lived on the southeast corner of Elizabeth Street and Puth Drive for 44 years. Their septic system needs to be replaced.

Witherspoon, who can't vote on the sewer project, said that neighborhood residents petitioned the city to install the sewer about 10 years ago, but didn't get the required number of signatures needed.

"We need to fix it," he said. "The whole area needs to be fixed. It needs the sewer."

Each property owner will be assessed $12,000, which will raise $1.2 million -- their share of the $4.2 million project. The city is paying the other $2.9 million. Residents are required by law to tie in to the sewer within six months after its completion.

Besides the assessment, residents also must pay a $3,184 surcharge; $6,300 for a contractor to disconnect and fill in the septic tank, and a $2,356 tap-in fee. The city is considering to waive the tap-in fee due to the hardship the costs would cause to most residents, who either are young families or retirees on a fixed income.

Residents began receiving certified letters from the city about the project, and options for paying its related costs, earlier this month. The letter informed them they could pay the $12,000 assessment within 30 days with no interest, or pay it over 20 years with 3% interest that gets tacked on to their property tax bill, which would add $7,200 to the cost, according to the city.

Or, residents could file an appeal, protesting the costs to the Clerk of City Council at Avon City Hall within 14 days of receiving the letter. Then, a three-person assessment equalization board, consisting of residents the city will appoint, could hear the case.

"We think we've come up with the best option and what's fair to everyone," Jensen said. "The EPA has mandated that the septic tanks have to be replaced. There's nothing we can do about that."

Matt Lowry and his wife, Janet, bought their home at 34675 Detroit Road two years ago, and now, expect to lose 8 to 20 feet of their front road for a city easement for the sewer line. They will be compensated, but the value has yet to be determined. The couple bought the home two years ago.

"When we bought this house, we thought this was going to be our piece of the American Dream," said Matt Lowry, a U.S. Navy veteran who works for a construction equipment rental company. "I have someone come to check my septic tank, and they say it's working perfect."

Since 2009, the proposed project has been revised numerous times to ower the costs, Jensen said. The current proposal presents the most economical option while providing sanitary sewer service to each property in the neighborhood, according to Jensen and City Engineer Ryan Cummins.

Avon is working with Lorain County Public Health to determine how many septic systems are in Avon. County sanitarian Smith said county health officials estimate there are 400 to 1,000. Smith also said that the county and city are working to identify areas in the city that have older septic systems that aren’t working and put them on a priority list for replacement.

The French Creek Road sewer project will replace an aging pump station, which is continually breaking down and becoming expensive to maintain, Cummins said.

Residents with septic systems will be assessed an estimated $5,770. There will not be a surcharge, but Briar Lakes residents will be subject to the North Ridgeville tap-in fee of approximately $2,611, which is adjusted annually for inflation, Cummins said.

The French Creek Road sewer project was sent out for bids in early summer for construction costs, but the bids came in too high, according to Cummins. The project will be re-bid in early 2020.

Contact this reporter at msakal@westlifenews.com, or 440-871-5797

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