The Swancreek Water District has appealed a local court decision denying its plan for a water expansion project dating to 2011.
The appeal was filed Feb. 16 by the water district’s attorneys. The action came after Fulton County Common Pleas Court Visiting Judge Frederick McDonald filed a decision Jan. 17 that vacated project-related resolutions of Necessity and Assessment the district passed Aug. 13, 2016, and Oct. 8, 2015, respectively. Judge McDonald concluded the first resolution is illegal and unsupported by evidence the board provided.
In his judgment entry, Judge McDonald said the board failed to provide sufficient evidence to meet an Ohio Revised Code regulation mandating proof that a proposed water project is necessary. He said the board’s argument for a water project doesn’t take the statutes’ language and clear intent into account.
“The applicable statutes make it clear that before an asssessment is made, a board must find that the project is necessary, and that the board must find that the construction of the project complies with applicable state regulations…To interpret the statutes as contended by the board leads to an unreasonable and absurd result,” the judge wrote.
An $827.98 assessment would have been placed on each of the 216 parcels of land included in the district’s project, for an approximate total of $179,000. A water district survey of the parcel owners revealed that almost 70 percent opposed the project.
The Swancreek Water District claimed that “a significant number of property owners” showed interest in the project. The district also said the project would produce a better quality of water and service, and potential cost savings for the district, and might qualifiy for state and federal grants.
A total of 114 property owners in the district filed a civil suit in November of 2015 asking for injunctive relief against the water district’s plan. They included residents of Swanton, Delta, Perrysburg, Richmond Hill, Ga., and Gainsville, Ga., and Brailey Union Church, located at 5571 County Road 3.
Development of the estimated $2.38 million water line expansion project began in 2012. It would have included land parcels on County Roads 3 and EF, and in the Peaceful Valley section of Swancreek Township. The project would have united those roads and traveled down County Road 3.
The complainants argued, in part, that the proposed project doesn’t comply with ORC requirements, that using Toledo/Lucas County water in the project was unauthorized per a 1997 court ruling, and that the project unnecessarily involved some Swancreek Township land parcels. They also argued they weren’t formally notified of the purpose of public meetings about the project.
Swancreek Water District board member Walt Lange said the board was advised by their attorney, Byron Choka, not to discuss the pending litigation. Choka declined comment.
Daniel McQuade, attorney for the property owners, could not be reached for comment.
One of the complainants, Sharon Niedzwiecki, said she and the others are ecstatic about the judge’s decision. Presently, she has a well, and pays only for the electricity generated to operate the pump.
“There’s no need for any public water. Everyone’s well is okay,” she said.
Among Niedzwiecki’s concerns over the water expansion project is being forced to tie into Toledo’s water system.
“It takes away freedom, and it would make you have to use chlorinated water. I don’t want to drink the chemicals,” she said. “(And) their water system is a financial mess and needs a lot of repairs. If you tie in, you have to eventually pay for repairs.”
She added that some of the parcel owners are widows who confided to her, “We can’t take another thing on our taxes, we’re maxed out.”
Niedzwiecki is also concerned for the complainants’ children, who in the future may want to purchase the land parcels in question to build their homes. She said if the water district wins its court appeal and constructs the system those children will be forced to use and pay for Toledo water.
It was frustrating when the water district board went ahead with the project despite opposition to it, she said. “Those men are appointed by the Swancreek Township trustees. So you have three appoointed men making the decisions for you. More than 100 parcel owners are opposed to it, and they just keep pushing it.”
Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010