The City of Nelsonville wants to invest $3.2 million in building a sewer connection to Doanville as part of their new wastewater treatment plant — but residents there aren’t sure they want one.
The Athens County Commissioners are planning to hold a meeting later this month to garner input from stakeholders in Doanville and the county before the commissioners decide whether to transfer sewage rights in that village to Nelsonville.
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.
In order for Nelsonville to move forward with picking up Doanville residents as customers, the county would need to relinquish sewage rights over the community. Since Doanville is unincorporated, it’s default sewage authority is Athens County government.
In late June, Nelsonville also held a public hearing on the proposal to expand the sewer line to the small unincorporated community of a few hundred residents which is situated only a mile from the site of where the new Nelsonville sewer plant will be.
County Commissioner Charlie Adkins said he attended the Nelsonville meeting and heard that while some residents of Doanville expressed interest in the project, a number of people expressed strong opposition to a public sewage system.
“I think clearly in the meeting, a number of people were not interested in the Nelsonville sewer and I suppose there was some folks that may be interested in the sewer in that area,” Adkins said.
Nelsonville City Manager Scott Frank said he was sure the expansion proposal was going to be a “slam dunk.”
“Why someone would not want sewers is unknown to me,” Frank said.
Adkins said some residents are opposed to public sewage because of the associated bill for waste.
Others may have just purchased an expensive new private septic tank, Adkins said. According to homeadvisor.com, septic tanks cost between $3,094 and $10,137, or $6,612 on average. A typical 1,000-gallon tank installation for a 3-bedroom home ranges from $2,100 to $5,000. Materials cost between $600 and $2,500 without labor.
“And some of those folks are saying ‘I just spent $7,000 on a tank and now I need to get rid of it?’” Adkins said.
Adkins also said that some are opposed to the cost of getting their homes attached to the public network, with some fearing that may be prohibitive.
While public sewage will connect a community broadly to a network, it is still the individual sewage user’s responsibility to attach their home to the network, Adkins said. There are various Ohio Department of Health and EPA grants that can mitigate these costs, however.
He also said residents would need to get their private septic tanks removed or crushed.
According to totalseptic.com, if the tank is made of steel, it will probably be crushed in place and buried. If it is made of concrete, the bottom or sides may be broken apart so the tank can no longer hold water, and then the tank can be filled with sand, gravel, or some other type of rubble and buried.
According to septicflusher.com, septic tank removal costs will range from $3,000 to $10,000. The size and condition of the tank will impact its cost of removal.
Adkins also acknowledged some septic systems in Doanville that are not working properly and need to be replaced.
Adkins and Frank both said the Ohio EPA (which in part contributed grant funding) and Athens City/County Health Department have expressed their support for the public wastewater system being extended to Doanville.
“The EPA always likes a public system because they can come out and examine the water and make sure sewage is discharged properly,” Adkins said.
The Ohio EPA and ACCHD could not be reached for comment by publication time.
Frank said he understood the financial concerns of residents, especially for the people who recently installed new systems, but said it would be overwhelmingly positive for the Doanville community.
He said public sewage would instantly increase their property values.
A study completed by a private firm in 2019 for Mt. Pleasant Township in Washington County, Pennsylvania, showed that public sewage in rural areas can increase property value by as much as 8%. Commercial property value increases by as much as 25% in areas that receive public sewage.
Frank also said Nelsonville was getting no benefit from extending coverage to nearby Doanville, and if the city didn’t extend sewage, the county would have to at some point down the road.
“If Nelsonville doesn’t pay for it, the county is going to have to pay for it at a later time,” Frank said. “There’s not much gain for Nelsonville to do this.”
Adkins said his position is that the commissioners should hear more input from residents and stakeholders as well as from the York Township trustees. He said the issue is complicated and involves numerous groups with a variety of perspectives.
He added that holding a hearing for more input does not mean the commissioners are for or against the project.
Tim Warren, a York Township trustee, told The Athens Messenger on Wednesday that trustees are “up in the air” on the issue, although Warren acknowledged the County commissioners have final say in whether to cede the sewage rights.
Warren said the extension of public wastewater into Doanville would be a long-term benefit, but could be a short-term headache for residents.
“If there’s ever going to be growth, we need a sewer,” Warren said. “If we ever hope to get any kind of businesses or anything else in that area we need sewage.”
He, like Adkins, said the pains for residents could come from increased financial costs and responsibilities.
While he said many Doanville residents could apply for grants for removal and hookup to the public system, they still will be receiving a new bill each month.
“Even if people will get hookups for free, they’ll still get a monthly bill so it’s not entirely free,” Warren said.
The County Commissioner public hearing will be held July 27 at 6 p.m. at the York Township firehouse.
Frank said if the Doanville residents do not want the sewage plant, he can accept that.
“If they don’t want it, that’s fine,” Frank said. “If the commissioners don’t want it because the Doanville residents don’t want it — we don’t care either way.”