Pumps moving wastewater in the Morrow area could be overloaded, sending untreated sewage into the Little Miami River. Here Todd’s Fork rushes under the Little Miami Bike Trail in downtown Morrow after overnight and morning storms in 2008. Staff photo by Linda Weisenborn
Photo: Linda Weisenborn
Photo: Linda Weisenborn

Official warns explosive Warren County housing growth could cause river sewage spills

The commissioners rejected the request to limit new homes per year in the area to 80, and in general they said they preferred seeking alternative actions for solving the plant issue and not limiting the free market of residential development. An assistant county prosecutor said such a limitation could also have legal consequences.

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So far, pumps have kept the flow moving through the system, preventing back-ups discharging into the river and tributaries, said Warren County Sanitation Engineer Chris Brausch during his request to limit development. Brausch acknowledged the potential problems only happened when high flows stoked by rains were being pushed through the system.

“It’s going to happen,” Brausch said. “Our pump stations can’t keep up.”

Brausch said development in and around the village ranged from 80 to 120 homes a year.

While rejecting the limit proposed by Brausch, the commissioners agreed he should move ahead with contracting with an engineer to figure out a solution to the problem. The commissioners also agreed Brausch should send letters to the county’s regional planning commission and the village planning group in Morrow, advising them of the limited capacity at the regional plant.

Morrow officials could not be reached for comment.

Brausch projected any solution is at least five years away, prompting him to also urge the commissioners to agree to limit residential growth in the area.

“We cannot handle additional houses out there,” he said.

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Bruce McGary, the assistant county prosecutor advising the commissioners, warned that the county could be subject to lawsuits claiming the limit amounted to the seizure of properties where the homes are proposed. He said the county could require developers to ensure enough sewer capacity was available before granting permits.

Brausch persisted, explaining he wanted to prevent an illegal discharge into the river, likely to result in action from the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency. He predicted tanks designed to hold sewage going into the plant would overflow.

“We’re trying to nip this in the bud before it happens,” he said.

Commissioner Dave Young said he hesitated to limit “the free market” and called for “a lot more information.” Young said this issue was different from one that prompted the county to limit development, based on an engineering study.

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Young added that he was “officially concerned countywide” about rezoning applications aimed at building high-density housing on land where commercial or industrial development was planned.

“We’re seeing it more and more and more,” Young said.

Brausch said the county needed to better map where denser development was to be served in the Morrow area.

“This is an area that is growing,” he said. “You let the horse out of the barn…”

Commissioners Shannon Jones objected to a limitation.

“We’re a growing county. We are going to continue to be a growing county,” she said. “We’re going to have to keep having these discussions. There is less and less agriculture happening. I’d like to just wait and see.”

Commissioner Tom Grossmann said the county should also explore seeking support from Mason or Lebanon if its plant reached capacity.

“We ought to be looking on a regional basis what makes sense for all of us,” he said.

Brausch said capacity was not the problem, but the back-ups along the seven-mile stretch along the river.

“We’ll get a solution to this. We’ll be back before the board,” he said.