PIERPONT TOWNSHIP — The state allocated more than a million dollars for a proposed sewer project in the township, but now it appears the project might not move forward.
State lawmakers, in the biennial budget, appropriated $1.5 million to Pierpont Township for a revitalization plan that aims to bring water and sewer service to the largely shuttered downtown area of the township.
The appropriation would cover about half of the $2.7 million total estimated project cost. If Pierpont Township wants sewers, the county would also have to build a new wastewater treatment plant to service the 85 potential properties that would be required to tap in should such a project move forward.
The sewer project is the brainchild of the Pierpont Revitalization Committee, comprised of residents who have said sewer infrastructure would attract business to the area.
Nick Sanford, director of the Ashtabula County Department of Environmental Services, said the $1.5 million allocation is unusual because normally the state would send the funds to the county. County governments oversee townships on sewer matters because townships fall under county general sewer districts, Sanford said. Counties can form sewers within all unincorporated areas of a county, Sanford said.
“Typically in these arrangements the money would go to us because we are the agency responsible for executing construction if there is determined to be a necessity,” Sanford said. “In this case the money went straight to the township.”
Local officials aren’t sure why the money from the state went to the township. Heidi Griesmer, deputy director of Communications for the Ohio EPA, said Sen. Sean O’Brien, D-Bazetta, was the driver behind the appropriation.
“To be clear, these dollars were appropriated from the General Revenue Fund, and not any grant or loan program from Ohio EPA,” she said.
The Pierpont Township Trustees are scheduled to meet today at 6 p.m. at the township hall, 1109 Route 7. The state money is expected to be a topic of conversation during the meeting.
The question still remains as to what the necessity for sewers in Pierpont Township is, Sanford said. There are no EPA orders for unsanitary conditions and the health department has done some cursory groundwater samples with few negative results, Sanford said.
“They really haven’t found anything that says there is a public health nuisance,” Sanford said.
Since the EPA isn’t ordering the installation of sewers, Sanford said a survey was sent to property owners who would be affected if sewers were installed. If there is no demand for sewers to address a health issue, and if most residents don’t want it, Sanford said the project isn’t likely to move forward.
According to survey results, 62 responses were received with 34 against the project, 21 in favor and seven unsure.
“The majority of respondents were not in favor of a project,” Sanford said. “The county commissioners still need to make a decision, but thus far it leads me to believe this is probably not a feasible project.”
Commissioner Casey Kozlowski said the Board of County Commissioners have not yet made a decision regarding the project.
When that time comes only Kozlowski and Commissioner Kathryn Whittington would vote because Commissioner President J.P. Ducro has recused himself from any votes due to a conflict of interest since he owns property in Pierpont Township.
The Board of Commissioners is in the process of finding out through the state exactly how the funds can be used, Kozlowski said.
“The county commissioners serve as the board of directors for the county general sewer district,” Kozlowski said. “We want to get clarity on how these funds can be used.”
Bob Jackson, president of the Pierpont Township Board of Trustees, said the township received a check from the state for $750,000 this year and next year they will receive another $750,000.
“If all goes well we are engaged in this project before the biennial budget is over,” Jackson said. “If it doesn’t move forward I’m not sure what the precedent is for such funds.”
A “small group” of people are opposed because they own multiple properties and they would be affected monetarily if required to tap in to sewers, Jackson said.
However, Jackson said residents should keep in mind that septic systems will eventually fail and at some point the state will require infrastructure or private septic improvements.
As a leader, Jackson said he took an oath to improve and protect the community and he is thinking about the future of Pierpont Township.
“Economic development is a process by which the well being and the quality of a life of a community are improved upon,” Jackson said. “That has to take place, and if it doesn’t I’m not able to sit back and watch Pierpont disappear because we didn’t act on something that we have 90 percent of the funding for right now.”
Resident Steve Gagat, who owns property that would be required to tap in to sewers if a project were to move forward, said he has some major concerns — one of which is Pierpont Township receiving the state funds instead of the county. The money was allocated to the wrong entity, Gagat said.
“The township won’t be installing this system or running it,” Gagat said. “That money should have gone to the county to oversee with an earmark for Pierpont Township. The county would be responsible for this whole system.”