By Sean Rice
A list of properties outside Celina could be forced to connect to nearby public sewer systems, after years of documented septic system pollution in nearby drainage ditches.
County officials are focusing on three groups of properties with persistent ineffective septic treatment and conferring with the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency on the breadth of the problem.
Chris Miller, sanitarian with the Mercer County/Celina City Health Department, said the problems are not the result of one or two failing systems, but the result of poor soil content and the close proximity between individual septic systems.
The soil makeup in most of the county does not allow water to permeate quickly, causing runoff, and sewage, to find waterways quicker.
The three locations where testing in nearby ditches show off-the-charts levels of human fecal bacteria are Menchofer Woods subdivision off state Route 29, the Fleetfoot Road area between Mud Pike and Fairground Road, and the area where Celina-Mendon Road meets state Route 197. Menchofer Woods and the Fleetfoot Road area are in "reasonable" proximity to the county's sewer treatment plant at the Mercer County Home, where those properties could connect, officials said. The Celina-Mendon Road location is near the Eaglebrook sewer extension in Celina and could connect there.
Prodding by a top water official with the EPA caused the county to compile information on the properties, said Michelle Kimmel, director of environmental health for the county.
Kimmel said the issue could result in the EPA or county forcing property owners to act, but she would "rather not" take such an extreme measure. The EPA will be calling a meeting of property owners and officials with the county and city, she said.
At Menchofer Woods, 46 permits for private septic systems are on file at the county health office, with 76 percent of those older than 1979. The development is the last approved subdivision with half-acre lots, which can be too small for effective septic treatment under the soil conditions, according to health department documentation.
Testing for fecal coliform late last year in nearby ditches down-slope from the subdivision resulted in contamination "too numerous to count." Tests this February showed results that were as much as 900 percent above state nuisance regulations. Kimmel said those tests were taken shortly after a rain event and water was flowing strong in ditches. A splurge of runoff typically dilutes stagnant pollution.
Dry spells cause an awful stench at both the Celina-Mendon area and Fairground road locations, Miller said.
On the north side of Fairground Road, just east off Fleetfoot Road, is a ditch that has been the subject of complaints of stinky, black water. The open ditch receives runoff from a line of homes along the east side of Fleetfoot Road and a few homes and farms along Mud Pike.
Last year a home in the area was found with illegal septic bypass and ordered corrected. Miller said the water quality in the ditch was not improved by the repairs. Tests in this area also often come back too numerous to count.
Similar complaints of black water and offensive odors have been logged for the area near Celina-Mendon Road and state Route 197 northeast of Celina. Tests came back too high to count in this area also, officials said.
Most property owners in the effective areas already are aware of the problems, Kimmel said, but no contact has been made recently. County officials are waiting on the EPA to call a public hearing for property owners.
Miller said much engineering work is still required to learn the feasibility and cost of connecting these areas to nearby sewer systems. There is no time line to solve the problem.
"Obviously as soon as possible," he said. "Right now these are the worst problem areas that we have, so we decided to address them first."