NORTON: Something stinks in the Nash Heights neighborhood.
The city’s administration says the hilly, residential area north of Greenwich Road smells because of effluent seeping from aging, malfunctioning septic tanks. Mayor Mike Zita said he noticed the odor during a ride through the area last week. He backs the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency’s call for sewers and water service in the neighborhood.
Objecting to that plan are some Nash Heights residents who say the mayor’s plan stinks because sewers are not needed and they can’t afford them.
Some of them shared their objections to the EPA solution on a sunny, unseasonably warm day Monday. Many of them were outside raking leaves, trimming branches or mowing the grass over their septic tanks.
The discussions with the two sides are reminiscent of the recent fight in Congress: Both sides are dug in, and words are flying. The fight has divided the community of 12,000. A referendum to make the city taxpayers absorb the cost was defeated in August, but it was a close vote. There will be another referendum on a similar measure in December.
So, after the sun went down on the neighborhood chats, some of the same residents visited council chambers to hear details from a meeting held earlier between Ohio EPA officials and two Norton council members, Dennis McGlone and Charlotte Whipkey.
“Basically, it’s all bad news,” said Whipkey, who has expressed sympathy for the residents and their objections. She reported a series of statements from the EPA that pointed toward moving forward with the sewer project.
Roger Wilkinson has lived in his Nash Heights home since 1991. He had planned to go fishing Monday but took an opportunity to tell a reporter he opposes the plan.
“What I am trying to do is slow it down,” he said. “I have been against it since 2009, when they sent surveyors up here.”
Wilkinson showed off the “riser” he put on his septic tank at the request of an inspector a few years ago. He said he dutifully has the tank pumped periodically. The system has passed tests, he said.
He said his major objection is the cost. With two small pensions and a Social Security check, he makes about $18,000 a year.
The cost of the sewers is in some dispute. Engineers the city hired have estimated an $8,250 bill for each homeowner for the sewer running in front of a home. But there is confusion about additional costs, like running the line from the street to the home, removal of the septic tank and other plumbing.
“I’m told it can cost anywhere from 20 to 30 thousand,” Wilkinson said.
He said that if the sewers must come, then he expects some help financially.
“All we want is for the city to get some relief — grants,” he said.
Later that night, Whipkey seemed somber when she told the council: “We told [the EPA officials] that for citizens it’s a lot of money for them — that it’s going to be tough for them to make these payments, and [the EPA] understood and ... understood there’s not a whole lot of grants out there for that.”
McGlone said the EPA officials felt bad about a lack of funding options.
“They are just doing their job and doing what they have to do,” he said.
In working order
Joseph Straub was cutting back a bush near the culvert in front of his home as he recalled the time someone complained that his septic tank was sending effluent into the ditch. He had the system tested.
“It was pure, so they let it go,” he said.
He thinks septic tanks are sufficient as long as they are kept in working order.
“I think they should fix the ones that need it. ... That would take care of it,” Straub said.
Whipkey said she raised that idea with the EPA.
She repeated claims that merely testing “outfalls” near the culverts rather than the tanks themselves could bring faulty results.
“[The EPA has] assured us that there’s a lot more than just a couple or a few systems in Nash Heights that are failing, and they base that on going out and inspecting the outfalls. There is sewage fungus that’s present, the black water, the smell,” she said.
One EPA official said he found some of the highest fecal readings he ever experienced. The state agency isn’t buying the idea of fixing a few septic tanks.
“The likelihood of getting any fix and repairs in Nash Heights is slim and none,” Whipkey said. “They are not going to condone that. They are not going to be looking to do that.”
‘Great well water’
Danielle Spencer moved her family to the neighborhood about five years ago because of the highly rated school system. She had lived in Akron’s Firestone Park area, where the family had city water and sewers.
“The septic and well didn’t bother me,” she said. “No water bill, no sewer bill. And like I said, I’ve had no problems. I have great well water. It tastes great; it’s clean.
“I’ve had no problem with my septic tank,” Spencer continued. “A couple hundred bucks every other year, they come empty it out. So I’ve had no issues with it.”
Opponents of the ballot proposals to reduce out-of-pocket costs for Nash Heights say they already have been assessed for their sewers and shouldn’t be asked to bear a portion for others.
“I don’t think it’s fair that everyone in Norton gets to vote on this topic,” she said.
Some proponents of the sewers say they will help the city economically.
Tom Kornas, a neighbor of Spencer’s, isn’t buying that argument.
“They are not going to build an economic system,” he said. “They are going to build what they want to build, and they are going to shove it down our throat and you are going to like it.”
Kornas said a lot of older people can’t afford the sewers and might face foreclosure.
“If you can’t get the money and you can’t get the credit, what are you going to do?” he said. “It’s mandatory; you have to hook up.”
Kornas, 61, runs a Norton-based pest-control company. He said a sewer bill would hurt, but he would get by.
“We’ll do something,” he said. “We’ll survive.”
Mel Hawkins lives a couple of blocks away and said he is surprised sewers haven’t come sooner.
“I’m for the sewer project,” he said. “I think it’s a time to upgrade our community, and this is one of the ways to do it. It amazes me we don’t have sewer and water as close as we are to cities like Barberton, Wadsworth, Copley. I’m definitely for it.”
Even though he lives on higher ground, he occasionally smells the product of poorly maintained tanks.
“Yes, sometimes after a large spring rain, something like that,” he said.
Hours later, Wilkinson, the man who showed off his septic tank riser, said he removed the cover and inspected the water at the top of the system. It was clear and did not smell.
But he later heard Whipkey report pessimism: “It was not a rosy picture for us at all,” she said.
Dave Scott can be reached at 330-996-3577 or email@example.com. Follow Scott on Twitter at Davescottofakro.