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Why are a small group of people so intent on having Peninsula build and operate its own sewage treatment plant? We`re a tiny little community — so small that we farm out our building department, along with our Health Department, and our Court. And yet, there is a group who thinks we should build and operate our own sewer system?

And, they want to build it in an area that had catastrophic flooding twice in the last 20 years. (If you didn`t live in the Village when that happened — take a drive over to Terry Lumber and look at the water line on the wall that`s still there.) Next time, there will be raw sewage with the mud and the tree limbs. Who pays for that when it happens?

I met with the EPA on April 20, 2018. Here is what EPA says:
  • EPA has no jurisdiction over homes in the Village unless there are four units or more.
  • Home Septic Systems are totally and completely legal and acceptable for every residential property that has one, two, or three units. The cost for a new system was estimated at $10,000 to $15,000.
  • EPA has no axe to grind with the businesses in town. Most of them are in full compliance, and the others are working with EPA to find solutions.
  • Even if there was a problem with the businesses (and there isn`t), and even if it got ugly (which it wouldn`t), they will not force the Village to do anything. It`s between EPA and the business.
If Peninsula decides to design and build a central collection system, Peninsula should work with Summit County.

Right now, a small group of people have decided that half the Village needs to build a central sewer system, and that half of the Village has to pay for the planning and construction. They`ve already decided that payments will stretch for 20 years just for the design. And it doesn`t matter what people can afford, or what is fair.

As one member of Council said — "if you can`t afford it, it`s time for you to move on."

How did we get here?

A few years ago, a group of businesses and the National Park approached Russ Pry, who was the County Executive and asked for some help. They couldn`t expand their businesses because of EPA concerns. Could the County help? Executive Pry told me that he wanted to help "a regional asset" (the Park — not the Village) expand and thrive, so he wanted to help the businesses get better wastewater treatment. And here was the best part — all of the houses near the businesses could piggy-back on the business project. Then Russ died.

(No one has ever discussed whether expanding the businesses is a good idea for the folks who live here.)

About two years ago, Mike Weant, who works at the County Sewer Department, estimated the cost of a sewer system at $8 million (plus or minus 20%). He told me that Peninsula couldn`t afford that, and that some other solution had to be found. His opinion was that the most a home owner could be asked to pay was `about the cost of a good septic system`, which he estimated at that time would be $8,000 to $12,000.00. (Yesterday the EPA estimated a range of $10,000 to $15,000.)

But, when I ask the sewer advocates how high the price could rise before this construction project wouldn`t go forward, I am told that there is no cap, because "you have to clean up your wastewater no matter how much it costs" and "it`s a utility — it`s the same thing with gas and electric — you have to pay for it, no matter how much it costs."

Well — no — every other utility has programs for those who can`t afford the service. And you can always turn off the lights and save money. You can`t do that with this sewer plan. You pay what you are told to pay — even if you never flush. (And you pay the same rate that your neighbor with all those teenagers pays). How is that fair? How is that reasonable? How is that right?

Just this past week, the Village of Clinton (which is about twice the size of Peninsula) signed up with Summit County to build and operate a sewer system for their Village. Homeowners will pay $11,629.00 over 10 years — right in that $8/12 or $10/15 range). And if they have a working septic system now, they can use it for the next seven years before hooking in, which gives them 17 years in total to pay the bill. (The arithmetic comes out to about $57 a month). The whole project is costing 7.3 million — but Clinton is only paying 5.5 million. And Clinton doesn`t have to operate the plant.

When are WE THE PEOPLE going to get to discuss and decide? When are basic questions going to be answered? When is it going to be discussed and voted on — with everyone having a voice?

Here`s what I think — it`s time for the community as a whole to be asked and not told. It`s time for the community as a whole to decide whether our community builds and operates a sewer plant.

If we decide to build, then we need to find a way to help out our neighbors who cannot afford the full cost, and we need to credit those people who have paid for and maintained legal and operating septic systems — because it`s unfair to punish them. Right now, there are more than a dozen families with deep and important roots in this community — who made Peninsula what it is — who are going to be forced off their land. Right now, there are many families with totally proper septic systems who are going to be forced to dig them up (at their own cost) and throw them away.

It`s wrong. Just plain wrong. Sure, there are homes that need to upgrade their septic system. (And NO, there aren`t any failing systems in the proposed district. Clinton had 71!) We should be working WITH each of those property owners to get their systems working right — it`s not too much to ask in a town this size with the history of community we have. Not now, and not ever, should we say — if you can`t afford it, you need to move on. Never.

Michael Kaplan