Most people in Trumbull County know we have a septic problem. A few people understand why we have that problem, and even fewer people know how we can fix it.
First, a little Septic 101 for everyone: If a home can't be tied to a centralized sewer system, it must have a septic system.
On-lot septic systems have a tank for solid waste and the liquid waste or black water is filtered through the soil. All of the waste is contained to the property and none enters the streams and rivers.
Off-lot systems have a tank for solid waste and a filtering system that cleans the liquid waste before it enters the streams and rivers.
Where there are no central sewers available, the method preferred by the Ohio EPA is an on-lot system. Unfortunately, in our area, we have clay soil that does not filter the liquid waste well. In order to make an on-lot system possible, work has to be done to the soil.
There is also usually a larger footprint required for this system; and, of course, it can get very expensive. Usually it is impossible to have an on-lot system for lots smaller than one acre. The Ohio EPA requires that all options be exhausted before an off-lot system be installed.
From 1992 to 2002, the Trumbull County Board of Health did not follow Ohio Administrative Code for approving permits for off-lot systems. They also subdivided property into lots smaller than five acres without a plan for a central sewer system or a determination that such a system would be impracticable or inadvisable.
As a result, in 2006, the State of Ohio sued the Trumbull County Board of Health. To settle the lawsuit, the parties entered into a ''consent decree.''
In this agreement, the Trumbull County Board of Health agreed among other things to only allow off-lot systems when it is impossible for the homeowner to connect to a central sewer system or to install an on-lot system. Members also agreed to only allow sand filter systems for off-lot systems.
In 2008, the agreement was amended to allow other filtration devices that are ''certified by the manufacturer to meet or exceed the performance of a sand filter.'' However, the guidelines for accepting these devices are established by the Trumbull County Board of Health.
To date, only two devices have been approved by the Trumbull County Board of Health. One of these is more expensive and unsightly than the sand filter system. So we effectively have one system outside of the sand filter system that can be used in an off-lot system.
The board of health has created a monopoly for that manufacturer. Because we have the consent decree which gives the health department the final authority to regulate competition, it costs more in Trumbull County to have an off-lot system installed here than it does anywhere else in Ohio.
The Trumbull County Board of Health has rejected requests to approve another system that was approved by the Ohio Department of Health in 2010. This system was approved for use in all the other counties in Ohio. Our board of health believes that it doesn't conform to the consent decree. Because of the consent decree, they have the power to set the guidelines for approving the systems.
What are the effects of this situation? We live in an area where home values are not that high to begin with. Often, when a property is sold, the septic system needs to be replaced. Sometimes the cost of the new system is actually close to what the home is actually worth.
Also, because our board of health now has the reputation of being unfair and heavy-handed, people don't want to buy in Trumbull County. By the way, the heavy-handed reputation is earned. Police once detained a homeowner for not replacing his septic system. Many others have been charged criminally because they're too poor to afford the systems. The sales of homes have been stalled, making our already depressed economy even worse.
So what is the solution? First, we need to get out from under the consent decree. The intent of the decree was to make us compliant, but it has now become punitive with Trumbull County's rules now being stricter than the rest of the state.
The decree has been amended; why can't it be revoked?
Let's also realize that we have a Trumbull County Board of Health problem. Board members have been heavy-handed in enforcing this decree. Creation of the monopoly for off-lot systems has added to an already-difficult situation. They need to be replaced.
Township trustees and some village officials elect the health board members. Make sure your elected officials understand what is happening at our board of health. If they don't listen, replace them. Remember this: two trustees from each township are up for re-election in 2013.
The state representatives, the trustees and health board members are public servants. If they forget that, we need to remember that we the people have the power to replace them.
Yoder is a Farmington resident.