MOUNT GILEAD — More than 70 households in Morrow County are waiting on the Ohio Department of Health (ODH) and the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (OEPA) to give the final approval on their septic system permits.
The county and ODH can sign off on Home Sewage Treatment Systems (HSTS) permits, but all final permits must still be passed by the Ohio EPA. It is unknown how long that might take. Contractors on these new permits won’t be paid until the final approvals on permits come from both the ODH and Ohio EPA.
Morrow County’s HSTS grant program is currently locked down.
Commissioners Burgess Castle and Tom Whiston are concerned about how much time it is taking to get the problems of the HSTS program resolved. This is an Ohio EPA program that helps families repair, replace and improve their septic systems, many of which are failing or not operating.
The lockdown of the Morrow County’s Sewage Treatment Systems (STS) program came about after a June 26-27 ODH survey review of the (STS) program found major deficiencies to be corrected.
The ODH required that the Morrow County Health Department submit an action plan within 45 days of the survey report for all items marked as needing action plans.
The Director of the Ohio Department of Health gave Morrow County Health Department Sewage Treatment System program “Provisional Status” until major deficiencies in the report are corrected. The ODH survey also “recommended that the Morrow County Health Department review all permit files were issued from January, 1, 2015 to the present.”
Morrow County Development Director Shane Farnsworth is concerned that as new business and industry comes into the county, it will be a problem if new home builds are held up due to problems in obtaining permits.
Both Farnsworth and County Grant Specialist Ike Hickman are concerned for the future of the Home Sewage Treatment Grant Program and also the Revolving Loan Fund and other county programs that may be affected until both the ODH and Ohio EPA are satisfied that Morrow County procedures and policies follow the state regulations.
Hickman explained that three sets of grants are in question since the 2015 change in state regulations. $300,000 was paid to contractors for the 16-17 HSTS Grant by the Ohio EPA and those septic systems are now in review and many require changes. $300,000 was under contract or completed, but contractors are yet to be paid for the 17-18 grant. The Development office is now waiting with the 18-19 work awarded, but not being completed due to the stop order by ODH and the Ohio EPA.
Farnsworth said that the Development Office, Commissioners, contractors and home owners relied on the Morrow County Health Department to abide by the state’s regulations and policies, concerning septic system repairs and replacements as well as new systems. He noted that the issue is with the Morrow County Health Department and how they designed and approved repairs, replacements, and new systems since January, 2015.
In order to be assured that the county has approved regulations in place, the ODH and OEPA are halting all septic system repairs, replacements, and new installs until the County Health Department has state-approved policies and procedures in place.
Farnsworth said the future is yet to be determined for any septic system that has been repaired, replaced, or newly installed since January, 2015. Property owners may be required to take corrective action subject to ODH and OEPA.
It will be a waiting game until the surveys and audits of the state ODH and Ohio EPA are completed and results are known.
Morrow County Health Commissioner Pam Butler said that the Health Department submitted the plan to correct problems and deficiencies before the 45-day deadline given by the ODH. She said the ODH has been very accommodating in working with the county on bringing the individual septic systems into compliance.
This work to correct problems began in July and continued through the summer. They now are working from a state-approved checklist for each individual septic system.
Butler said sanitarian Rod Brewer and other Health Department staff have attended training sessions and are working through problems on the survey. Some homes have been approved that were on the non-compliant list.
Butler is confident that the state agencies will find that problems have been resolved. She said that inspections are going forward now, but the decisions on payments for the HSTS grants rests with the Ohio EPA.
When asked about a timeline for a resolution, Butler said that the ODH will come back sometime by December for a follow up survey. Hopefully, they will lift the provisional status of the health department at that time.
“We are positive, since we have been working closely with them that they will find that problems have been resolved,” Butler said.