They said it was coming.

City council at its Committee of the Whole work session on Jan. 7 heard two letters, one each from Summit County Public Health and the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency. The county said Nash Heights is under consideration as a “public health nuisance” requiring the extension of sanitary sewer and the OEPA gave the city until Jan. 22 to respond with a plan of action.

On the date of that deadline, the county will have a public hearing in the Norton High School gym at 7:30 p.m.

The problems stem from the type of septic system in the city’s denser neighborhoods. These systems, permitted at the time the homes were built, discharge the treated wastewater into the storm water system. For several years, tests at various places throughout the city have shown fecal bacteria levels far over the legal limit, indicating an estimated 70 percent of these systems had failed. The city was found in violation and ordered to come up with a plan to eliminate the illicit discharge. The OEPA was not specific as to what sort of plan the city should aim for, although the agency has made no secret of its preference for sanitary sewer.

So-called “off-lot discharge systems” are no longer allowed under EPA rules, meaning repair of these particular failing systems or replacement with the same sort cannot legally be done. With most of the lots in Nash Heights being too small for most on-lot discharge systems, the city opted for an ambitious sewer project.

Faced with high costs from assessments to build the system, residents revolted, forming a political action committee called Citizens4Norton. The group strongly opposed running sewer lines and met an offer from Ohio Representative Marilyn Slaby of a $5 million grant to help with the project with peals of derisive laughter when she answered that she’d learned that the EPA was requiring the project from the Norton government.

Under intense pressure from the residents, council in July unanimously approved Councilman Bill Mowery’s motion to indefinitely table all city sewer projects until a complete project cost was worked up and all funding sources other than assessments had been explored.

“The day after that meeting, I called Summit County and the EPA and told them we would not be moving forward,” city administrator Rick Ryland said.

The city’s EPA permit requires the administration to make periodic reports on the progress of its filed mitigation plans.

Citizens4Norton leader Dennis Pierson accused Ryland of calling the agencies down on Norton, citing minutes of the Nov. 15 Health Advisory Board meeting. He said that in those minutes, Summit County Public Health water quality supervisor Ryan Pruettanswered that his agency only responds to a complaint from a community. Ryland denied that this was true.

“As a matter of fact, I told them it was foolish to hold this meeting,” Ryland said.

Council President Don Nicolard said the fines the city faced for non-compliance with the EPA’s order would be devastating and gave council a week to think of a plan to reply with to the EPA to meet the deadline.

Wadsworth Road resident Patricia Reese lambasted council and the administration for not offering the residents alternatives short of sewer to solve the problem. In past meetings, Ryland has said that not all affected lots are suitable for the alternatives, like the Wisconsin mound and irrigation drip methods, and the associated costs of these systems generally match or exceed the individual cost of extending and connecting to a sewer line, which is the EPA’s preferred solution.

In the meantime, legislation advancing Councilman John Conklin’s “Plan B” sewer extension connecting Perfect Power Wash and the Barberton water treatment plant to a sewer line the city would build died for lack of a second.

“If we’re only hooking up one business, I’m not sure I want the city to pay for that,” Councilman Todd Bergstrom said.

“Plan B” was proposed as an alternative to the Nash Heights project that could still possibly appease the EPA.

The ordered report from the ad hoc Telecommunications Committee, created to find a way to comply with the charter amendment requiring televised council and committee meetings, was delayed by a desire of some members to discuss more options. They had scheduled a meeting for Jan. 10 at 6 p.m. and expected to have a report for the Jan. 14 regular council meeting.

Legislation allowing the Ohio Department of Transportation to resurface Norton’s portion of Interstate 76 went ahead for readings, as did a $17,900 partnership with New Franklin to resurface the joint portion of Cleveland-Massillon Road and a measure allowing finance director Laura Starosta to select the city’s banks and publishing the codified ordinances.

Council elected to keep the standing committees as-is, as well as council’s representative to the Firefighters Dependent Fund and the Health Advisory Board.

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