February 13, 2003
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Creek pollution focus of meeting

Victoria Hennessy “discovered” Massie Creek in Cedarville’s Indian Mound park this summer as she bicycled on country roads while training for a bike trip. She returned to the park over and over, attracted by the beauty of the stream and the ancient history of the Indian Mound.

“It seemed sacred,” she said recently.

When she returned to the park last October, Hennessy was shocked to discover human waste floating in the stream. Since then, she has followed with dismay the continued pollution of the creek by an outdated and overloaded Cedarville treatment plant.

Along with others concerned about the creek, Hennessy plans to attend a public forum on the situation Tuesday, Feb. 18, at Cedarville High School, 248 North Main Street. Organized by Friends of Massie Creek, the forum will feature officials of the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. EPA and Greene County, who will answer questions and address concerns.

Organizers hope for a good turnout for the forum, so that officials know many people care about the future of Massie Creek.

“We hope that people come together across community lines and send the message that clean water is a priority,” said Liz Mersky, one of the event’s organizers. “It’s important that they know this isn’t just a few people whose wells are contaminated, but that it’s impacting us all.”

Hennessy, a local resident and biologist who teaches ecology at Sinclair Community College, said that what happens in Massie Creek happens to everyone in the area.

“I have an appreciation for how fragile our ecosystems are. Massie Creek feeds into the Little Miami River and it’s being destroyed,” she said. “You lose a few species here and there and you know the whole ecosystem is being altered.”

For Bruce Cornett of the Green Environmental Coalition, the Massie Creek contamination is significant because it’s a local example of environmental pollution that’s happening all over the country.

“We have to work on the ones we can and this one’s close,” he said. “If it bothers you to see human waste in one of the best streams in the state then you should go and let your voice be heard.”

Area residents became aware of the problems this fall, when hikers discovered human waste and toilet paper in the stream. The problem was linked to the Cedarville treatment plant, long known to be outdated, but still processing increased amounts of waste as new students returned to recently expanded Cedarville University in September.

Ohio EPA testing has since revealed that, during peak hours, biological solids present in the creek can reach 300 to 400 milligrams per liter of water, compared to an acceptable level of 10 milligrams per liter.

Concerned citizens have expressed frustration at what they perceive as a lack of response from both local and state officials. Greene County officials did not post signs warning of the pollution until Jan. 14, and the Ohio EPA did not take steps to shut down the plant. While Greene County commissioners secured funding in December for construction of a new treatment plant, the facility won’t be completed for at least 18 months.

The Ohio EPA did send compliance experts to the plant last fall to determine possible short-term actions, said Mersky, who lives on Massie Creek. While the plant implemented several changes, such as adding different pipes and putting in concrete baffles in attempts to provide additional aeration, Mersky said that she believes the actions haven’t been effective, and large amounts of human waste are noticeable on top of creek ice.

This week, the Ohio EPA took its most significant action, and notified Greene County officials that they needed to make significant changes to the plant by March 26 or else face possible fines of $10,000 a day, the Dayton Daily News reported on Feb. 11. State and County officials met this week to consider corrective actions and draw up a timetable for implementing those actions, the paper said.

The County’s plan to correct the problem involves piping the treated wastewater to a former “sludge lagoon” about 500 feet from the plant’s discharge pipes, where the wastewater would sit for five to six days while the waste solids settled, according to the DDN article, before the wastewater is discharged to the creek.

However, the recent EPA action does not lessen the need for people to attend the Cedarville meeting to express their concerns, said Mersky, because an official EPA order has not yet been given. Even if the order goes through, it’s not yet clear whether the treatment will work, she said.

“One of the main things I’ve learned is that there is no agency out there that is well-endowed enough either politically or financially” to take care of the problem, she said. “We’re going to have to do it ourselves.”


—Diane Chiddister