BRISTOL - When Donna and Butch Giesy decided to turn an unused barn into apartments on their property in 2010, the couple had no idea their backyard would be a casualty. Three years later, several large septic filtering mounds sit directly behind the Bristol home, built to compensate the additional rooms.
"Our farmland is destroyed," Donna Giesy said. "I wish we would have known it would turn into this when (the apartments) first came up."
The idea for the apartments grew after a suggestion from a friend.
Butch Giesy of Bristol kneels next to pipes that cover valves on top of one of the two mounds in his yard that are part off the property’s new septic system. The Giesys have complained that the size of the mounds has interfered with farming operations. Photo by R. Michael Semple
"As we're getting older, we have no money saved, and a friend came in and said, 'Why don't you put apartments upstairs?''' the 70-year-old Donna Giesy said.
She said they liked the idea and began installing the apartments. They had already started renting out the two apartments above the barn when they were notified by the Trumbull County Health Department of an upcoming standard inspection.
"That is when the nightmare started," Donna said.
After the health department inspected the apartments, the Giesys' single septic unit was deemed insufficient for the additional tenants. Unable to pay for the upgraded septic unit, the Giesys searched for an answer. It came in the form of the stimulus program. They were approved for $40,000 in federal stimulus money to install the unit.
"There is no other way we could have paid for it," Donna said. "Even if I went back to work."
For weeks, the Giesys describe their property as a major construction site, with trucks brimming with sand and dirt rolled through the North Park Avenue residence.
"We had no idea it was going to be this kind of construction," Donna said. "When the men were out there digging the holes, I just sat and shook my head. That's all I could do."
When the construction was over, two septic systems feeding into two large mounds were left just behind their home.
"It is just a travesty what has been done to our land," Donna said. "This was once a beautiful piece of farmland which we use to grow organic food. We also have done dairy farming and raised cattle."
Each of the three mounds is approximately 100 feet long, 30 feet wide and five feet high. Inside the piles of dirt and sand, called a mound system, is an intricate network of piping and electronics. It includes septic tanks, a holding tank and a dosing chamber.
Waste from the home and the apartment is sent to the septic system, where solids and liquids are separated. The liquid waste is treated as it is sent to the mounds for filtration. The wastewater is finally treated and disposed in the soil underneath the mound.
Mary King with King Bros., the company that installed the system, explained the mound system on the Giesys' property is not uncommon.
"We do install a lot of them. However, the kind of system is based on the property where it's going," King said. "Each mound system is designed by an engineer based on things like how permeable the soil is and the amount of water usage."
Butch Giesy, 77, said one of the biggest issues is attempting to keep the septic mounds groomed.
"I defy anyone to come out here and try to mow these things. The way I mow it, we have a farm here, so we have a mowing machine," Butch said. "I take the machine and cut it with the side of the tractor as far as it will reach. Then, I cut the top with a riding mower. If we were to have to mow that without this farm machinery, we would be lost."
King said not only can the mounds be mowed, it is important that they are well-kept.
"It is just like any other piece of equipment like your car," King said. "It has to be maintained and taken care of to work properly."
According to Butch Giesy, the mounds also cut into his farmland.
"It took away a big portion of our exercise lot for cattle," he said. He said that while they don't currently have cattle, they do plan to in the future. The farm is mainly devoted to corn, oats and soybeans.
"I think the Giesys are just frustrated with septics as a whole," King said. "You know, a car used to be simple. As technology advances, things get more complicated. The EPA and all of their regulations and mandates mean that septic systems have to contain more bells and whistles than they used to."
King noted that, because the Giesys have put in apartments, the septic system has to be able to accommodate the property as if all rooms are occupied.
"You can't put a regular septic system in a Holiday Inn," King said. "The system has to handle it as if it is completely booked. I would urge people to call their local septic installer. There are several different kinds of septic systems and it is important that people know how they function."
Meanwhile, Donna Giesy said she has tried to get explanations to no avail.
"I tried finding out why these things have to be so big. I couldn't get an answer," she said, eyes welling with tears. "They wonder why people are moving out. It is things like this that cause it."
Multiple attempts to contact the Ohio EPA were unsuccessful.