Janauary 2, 2003
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County to upgrade Cedarville plant

Greene County has taken a first step toward a long term solution to Cedarville’s overburdened waste water treatment plant, which has been under investigation by the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency since October for polluting Massie Creek.

On Christmas Eve, the Greene County commissioners approved a $6.2 million low-interest loan from the Ohio Division of Environmental and Financial Assistance to fund a major renovation of the treatment plant, County Administrator Steve Stapleton said.

The project is expected to take 18 months to complete. In the meantime, residents who live along the creek downstream from the current plant are still uncertain of the quality and safety of their wells and of the waters lapping at the edge of their properties.

Massie Creek runs through Cedarville and Indian Mound Reserve Park before emptying into the Little Miami River south of Yellow Springs. Ohio EPA test results from October showed bacteria colony counts taken just downstream from the sewage plant were 44 times the acceptable level. Ohio EPA officials believe the problem may have been exacerbated by the increased number of Cedarville University students adding to the volume of waste water.

Since the investigation began, fecal coliform levels, synonymous with fecal contamination, in the creek have ranged from 667 colonies per 100 milliliters of water to 110,000 colonies, according to Rick Schran of the Greene County Sanitary Engineering Lab. The Ohio EPA’s acceptable level is around 1,000 colonies.

Bacteria levels in the creek vary from day to day, depending on the amount of rainfall and whether or not the university is in session, Stapleton said.

“Sometimes levels are above standard and sometimes they’re below,” he said. “The standards are so rigid that even if the water doesn’t meet the standard that doesn’t mean the water is unsafe.”

Greene County has been working with the Ohio EPA’s Compliance Assistance team in an effort to make the plant more efficient. The plant has taken steps to help settle the solid waste and also to extract some of the sludge from the plant by truck.

These measures “have not made a major impact, but it did help improve the quality of the effluent to some extent,” Stapleton said.

Pollution in the creek has affected the properties and well water of some of the residents who live along the creek, including Liz Mersky, who had her well independently tested several times. Tests have revealed E. Coli and unacceptable levels of fecal coliform in her water, Mersky said.

“No one is providing water for us, and we have a right to have good water,” she said.

According to Mark Isaacson, program manager for water, sewer and solid waste with the Greene County Combined Health District, the County is not responsible for providing water for residents because tests have not determined whether or not the creek is responsible for the contamination of their wells.

“It has never been our policy to provide homeowners with water to drink,” he said.

The health department has tested three residential wells downstream of the plant, Isaacson said. Two of the wells tested positive for coliform bacteria, and one of them retested positive even after disinfectant measures were taken, he said.

Mersky has been hauling in her own drinking water and using a borrowed water tank for the horses she keeps on her property. Her 91-year-old neighbor has her family members bring in water for baths, Mersky said.

The Friends of Massie Creek citizens action group has met regularly since October to try to improve the situation. The group submitted a letter in November to State, County and Cedarville officials requesting they address public health needs such as public notification signs and public assistance for clean water and ongoing well testing, Mersky said. To date, the group has had no response.

“Our sense of community needs to enlarge because we’re not dealing with little encapsulated towns, this is a wider issue,” Mersky said. “This group of people who live along the creek need help.”

The health department has posted two pollution warning signs in Indian Mound Park. One sign is beside the creek just behind the water treatment plant, and the other is streamside near Tarbox Cemetery Road, Stapleton said. But there are no signs at the entrance to the park or on the trails.

According to Jim Schneider, assistant director of Greene County Parks and Recreation, the park’s risk management team has advised park officials to wait for the health department to approve the wording for the risk factors before more signs are erected.

The health department is waiting for the same thing, Isaacson said.

“We’re working with the county to improve the situation, but we can’t be 100 percent until the plant is built and on line,” Ohio EPA permits supervisor Richard Shoemaker said. “They are operating as fast as they can, considering it takes time to build a structure of that size.”

Greene County commissioners are waiting for construction bid approval from the Ohio EPA, Stapleton said. A bid should be awarded sometime in mid-January, and construction could start by late February or March, he said.

—Lauren Heaton