Officials from Union County and the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency are at odds over a plan to have the City of Columbus provide water and sewer to Plain City.
In a recent meeting with the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, county officials expressed their concern with the plan. Officials said they are concerned that Columbus will use a change in the water and sewer service plan to annex land in Union County.
“I don’t think we object to Plain City getting water and sewer service from the City of Columbus,” Commissioner Steve Stolte said “We just have this overriding issue about the City of Columbus potentially annexing into Union County and when we are told that they don’t plan to but then they are not willing to put it in writing, the message we get is that they have every interest in annexing into Union County.”
The commissioners have said they will not sign a petition requesting the service change until they get some assurance from Columbus officials that is not the plan.
In March, Columbus and Plain City submitted a request to allow Columbus to service Plain City and surrounding area in Union and Madison counties. Because the service area included both counties, both counties were asked for their approval. Union County, however did not give it. At that time Union County officials said they were not opposed to Columbus servicing the area, but wanted assurance that Columbus would not annex land in Union County.
Plain City and Columbus decided to move on without Union County. Plain City is currently in the middle of approving legislation for a similar plan. This new plan would still include all the Madison County and Plain City land originally identified for service, but would eliminate service to any Union County land outside the village limits.
Mike Galloway, with OEPA, called it “a significant boundary change” and acknowledged that Columbus has done its homework in preparing the background plan, though “they still have work to do.”
Galloway said “one of the impacts” of the change is that Union County’s approval or endorsement is not required. Madison County has already approved the plan, contingent upon Columbus’ assurance it will not annex into Madison County.
Commissioners Steve Stolte and Chris Schmenk said they still believe the commissioners need to sign the petition.
“It is my understanding that there are some involved in Columbus that are willing to provide that letter and some that are not,” Galloway said.
Commissioner Charles Hall called Columbus, “the gorilla in all this.”
“I don’t care if they don’t want it, we still need to have some idea what’s happening,” Hall said.
Hall said Columbus has maintained a water spur from Hilliard to the Union County line. He said that spur, “brings heartburn on this side of the table.”
Stolte said Union County, Dublin, Marysville and Plain City all have “a vested interest in how that area develops.”
“The City of Columbus, on the other hand, they wouldn’t have, we don’t think, the same kind of vested interest…” Stolte said, adding there is no need to add Columbus as another player in that corner of the county.
The commissioners said they are also worried that as Plain City grows, it will annex land. The commissioners said they believe their approval would be needed for Columbus to service the area. Galloway said he believes that once property is annexed into the village, it would fall under the existing approval.
“If it is annexed in… then that community provides service,” Galloway said.
He did say the county would have the opportunity to oppose any annexation into the village, before the water question would even arise.
“In that case, annexation is trumping the plan,” Galloway said.
“I don’t think we read it that way necessarily,” said County Administrator Tim Hansley.
Isaac Robinson, chief of OEPA’s Central District Office Surface Water Division, responded, “that is the way our attorneys read it.”
He said he is not an expert in annexation and will check again and get back to the commissioners.
Stolte said he remembers having input when the policies were being put together. He said he believes that commissioners would need to approve any boundary plan or boundary change even if it followed annexation lines.
“Our job is to keep the best interest of Union County above board and that’s what we are trying to do,” Hall said.
Galloway said it would be better if there were a “regional body that could do this kind of thing and sort this out.”
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