Dozens of Doanville residents expressed their frustration Tuesday night at what they said was a lack of answers from Nelsonville city government about a proposed sewer extension project into their unincorporated community.
About 40 people, including residents, the Athens County Commissioners, York Township Trustees and representatives from The Athens City/County Health Department (ACCHD) received input from the residents in the York Township Fire Station.
The Athens Messenger previously reported the City of Nelsonville wants to invest $3.2 million in building a sewer connection to Doanville, located just down the road from the city, as part of their new wastewater treatment plant. The Athens County Commissioners would need to sign sewage rights away from them in order to go forward with the project.
According to WOUB, Nelsonville has secured a total funding of more than $16.5 million for the project Nelsonville hopes will operate as a regional provider for water customers in Athens and Hocking counties. It is already set to include Carbon Hill and Murray City among other localities.
The project is funded in part by grants, including from the EPA and USDA.
The residents of the unincorporated but densely populated community in attendance seemed to be opposed to the sewage system. A common theme of their concerns seemed to be distrust of Nelsonville city government. They said they were not being given answers about the project.
During one point near the end of the meeting, the dialogue had broken down to chaotic shouting. Commissioner Charlie Adkins stood up and addressed the crowd, telling them the commissioners had not decided anything yet, and that the meeting was to hear concerns from the residents.
He said he and the commissioners organized the meeting after attending a Nelsonville hearing and feeling like the answers provided were unsatisfactory.
“I didn’t get the answers I needed — I don’t think you folks got the answers you needed,” Adkins said.
Nelsonville City Manager Scott Frank said he has done his best to answer all questions, both privately, and at two hearings the city has held.
Frank also said Nelsonville was not invited by the commissioners to the hearing, and was told multiple times the city did not need to attend.
Many residents seemed concerned that their recently-paved roads would be destroyed by the sewer process.
Sherri Warren, a Doanville resident, said she did not want her “road torn up.” Other residents said they had seen what happened to the roads in Murray City, another area Nelsonville is expanding water and sewer.
“I work every day, and I do not want bad streets while driving home,” Warren said.
Fitch said the reason the Murray City sewage improvement project had caused damage to the roads there was because Nelsonville did not handle the contracting or construction, Hocking County did.
“We had nothing to do with the installation over there, the contractor over there — we had zero oversight of the project,” Frank said to The Messenger.
Sharon Elliot, who bought a house in Doanville two years ago, said she just installed a septic system for $7,000. Now, she says she doesn’t want to pay the dig-in fee and the monthly rate.
“You’re putting this on the people, and the people either want it or don’t,” Elliot said. “Don’t make them take the stupid thing they don’t want.”
“I ain’t doin it,” she said. “Not in my house.”
Another concern was from Jeremy Warren, 24, who said he was proud to be from Doanville (and not Nelsonville), stated he was worried Doanville would smell bad when the sewage plant was completed a mile from Doanville. He cited the foul aroma that emanates from current Nelsonville sewage plant.
“And then you’re going to say ‘I’m from Doanville,’ and they’ll say ‘oh yeah, the place that smells like s---,’” Warren said.
Frank told The Messenger the reason the old sewage plant smells so bad is because it is over 50 years old. The new sewage plant, he said, will not smell because it will employ less stinky technology.
Several residents expressed concerns about a sewage “shut-off” valve that a Doanville resident who was working on the Murray City project said he had installed on all the lots there.
This caused a roar of confusion and anger from Doanville residents, many of whom spoke up to say they would fear Nelsonville shutting off sewage access and their homes would back up with sewage.
Athens County Commissioner Lenny Eliason said he was unaware of the valves and would look into it.
Frank said they were installing shutoff valves in Murray City, which he said was standard procedure for customers who use sewage and not water. He said this also helps with unoccupied properties.
Many residents also expressed frustration that they were being quoted at a higher rate than in-town users.
Frank said city residents pay a lower rate as a “benefit” for living in Nelsonville.
“That (rate is) what it is for everybody outside the city,” Frank said.
Frank added, like in Murray City, the City of Nelsonville would be open to working with residents to set up an alternative payment plan to make costs easier on residents.
Frank also addressed Doanville resident concerns about costs. He said the dig-in fee is a variable cost that could be very low if you are close to a sewer main, and the ACCHD and ODH have grants that are set exactly for this.
One resident at the meeting got very frustrated when grants were mentioned.
“Grants never come,” the resident shouted during the meeting.
Mike Cooper, from the ACCHD, urged residents to consider that the cost of installing sewage and removing septic tanks is only going to go up.
Ben Avery, also from the ACCHD, stressed the cost would only increase. Currently, the cost of replacing a private septic tank is between $9,000 and $15,000, Avery said.
They said Nelsonville is offering a very favorable deal, including the sewer rate.
“It seems from a price standpoint, like a very good opportunity to get connected to municipal sewer,” Avery said.
Several other officials, including Commissioner Lenny Eliason, and Athens Service Safety Director Andy Stone (who was not in attendance in any official capacity), agreed with Cooper that the cost will only go up as time goes on. Eliason cited the increasing costs of the commissioner’s Route 50 sewer project.
“If we decide now we’re not going to do it, and then in 10 years the EPA issues a finding and says you will connect, at that point it will be far more expensive,” Stone said.
Eliason added the EPA could issue a finding and basically compel Doanville to receive municipal sewage, at which point they would be connected to Nelsonville municipal sewage when rates could be higher
“Even if we were to do the project, I doubt that will be cheaper than sewage contracting with Nelsonville to treat the sewage — so you may be involved with Nelsonville (regardless),” Eliason said.