Woman faces fine, criminal charge over sewer line

HOWLAND – For the past 16 months, Barbara Glaspell has found herself in an impossible spot.

On one hand, she’s looking at a hefty fine and a misdemeanor charge for violating the county health code. On the other, she faces a $16,735 bill that she cannot afford.

“Where is the justice in this? You work hard all your life, pay your taxes and try to do what you think is right and something like this happens,” Glaspell said.

The 72-year-old North Road resident’s trouble began in September of 2011 when she received a notice in the mail from the Trumbull County Health Department. According to the letter, because a neighbor installed a sanitary sewer system within 200 feet, she was responsible for connecting to the line.

“My septic tank has been working fine for the last 10 years,” Glaspell said. “But I thought just pay it and be done with it.”

That was until she received the price tag.

After months of back-and-forth meetings with many local agencies, it was determined to meet the standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Health Department, Glaspell would have to pay $4,600 for the pipe and a $12,135.10 reimbursement fee. In addition, the existing septic tank must be properly abandoned.

Glaspell is employed part time with One to One Demonstrations. She attempted to obtain a low-interest loan at a local savings and loan on Jan. 2, but was denied.

“I have a little part-time job. The Health Department suggests that I apply for this low-interest program, but I knew they weren’t going to approve me,” Glaspell said. “My income-to-debt ratio isn’t sufficient enough to meet their standards.”

After more than a year of hearings with the Health Department, Glaspell is not sure where to turn next.

“I want to do what’s right,” she said. “But, if you don’t have the funding, what do you do?”

Officials for the Trumbull County Health Department say they are just enforcing the existing codes.

“Our department received notification from the sanitary engineers who deal with the sewers,” Commissioner James J. Enyeart said. “Our only issue is the public health and it is our duty to see that those standards are met. We are charged with overseeing a case when we are notified a sewer is within 200 feet from a residence, that it connects.”

Searching for answers, Glaspell, who has lived alone since her husband died 14 years ago, reached out to state Rep. Tom Letson.

“I’m really disappointed that your neighbor taking an action can cause you to owe over $16,000,” Letson, D-Warren, said. “Your neighbor doesn’t even have to consult you. It doesn’t seem right. But, I don’t know what the whole fallout will be. I’d like to be able to help her in some manner, but it doesn’t solve all her problems.”

Meanwhile, Glaspell’s final meeting with the Health Department was on Jan. 16. She has now been given 30 days to comply or the case would be turned over to a prosecuting attorney.

“I’ve never had anything but moving (driving) violations in my life,” Glaspell said. “To have to go to court for something like this. … I just never could have imagined it. I’ve been told I’m not alone and there are others facing similar circumstances, but that isn’t much consolation to me.

“I just went to the doctor, because my heart is weak. I’m taking medication for that. Now, this whole situation has caused me a lot of undo stress,” she said.

Glaspell has four sons and seven grandchildren, but says the cost is just too much.

“They have their own bills, and in today’s economy, people are lucky if they can even make it,” she said.

Health Department officials explained they have no choice but to pursue legal action if necessary.

“Eventually, we would have to refer the matter to the judge and then it comes down to what the judge has to say,” Enyeart said. “I don’t have final say in what the laws are, nor do I want that kind of responsibility. Our interest is one of public health and making sure people are abiding by the codes. That’s all we can do.”