Development Potential Hindered by Sewer Fears

There’s no simple way to put it other than to just say it, the City of Marietta and surrounding community’s ability to help existing companies expand and to attract new business is extremely limited.

Through a combination of difficult topography, floodplain issues, and general lack in infrastructure, my job as the economic development director for the county is largely out of my hands. For those unaware 80% of economic growth comes from companies already located in our midst and a meager 20% comes through area attraction. Were the developmental constraints limited to the 20% I wouldn’t be here writing, but sadly the ability of even local businesses to grow their operation through new construct and expansion is limited. We’ve stared this reality in the face for the last two years, as the most aggressive economy in the history of the United States has not affected the vast majority of our constituents.

Take a look around you, examine the vacant land and ask yourself why in our 231 years of existence has no one developed that land? Odds are what you see is former farmland or hillside, each of which has significant costs to develop (either to fill it to bring it out of flood level or to grade it to a level that would allow someone to build a building on it). But what about that land that is developable? That land is what I am speaking about now.

In order to secure investment from outside businesses for attraction, and more importantly to allow local businesses to expand their operation without taking on exorbitant development costs, our communities have to start building industrial parks with multiple tracts that have utility in place and are ready for new development……….. and these parks must have sewer.

No outside business search is going to look at a prospective tract for development and still consider it when they learn it is running on septic. Even area businesses whose governance is located far from Marietta won’t allow their businesses to grow into new spaces unless there is sewer and water present at the site. This puts us into a bit of a predicament.

Our communities have not managed sewer needs and mandates well. My organization has not effectively managed sewer requests from businesses in the county. The citizens of this County and their fears of cost have certainly not helped. We are a conservative and frugal lot by all accounts, and one thing that we detest is needless spending. It is evident from looking at our area budgets that we are as tight as we can be when it comes to the niceties of life. However, when it comes to our County’s economic future this tightfistedness may well be our undoing.

In order for our communities to grow we need to address our limitations and embrace mandates, new mechanisms of finance, and the stark reality that our septic systems through a combination of age, technology, and capacity limits are failing with regularity. Knowing this the State of Ohio has encouraged citizens to tap into more reliable and safer systems. We in Washington County have done a thorough job of bucking this mandate and in doing so have made inevitable decrees more expensive to implement and most notably have closed ourselves off to much needed tax base expansion.

Some would say, ‘didn’t the City of Marietta just build a new sewer plant?’ Yes, they did. They  are still expanding and upgrading as we speak and it has excess capacity. What should be understood, however, is that without area cooperation this excess capacity will not be utilized. The City of Marietta wants and needs to extend sewer lines out to you. The State EPA wants you to be on that same sewer line, but the costs are significant, and to many of us that is too great a burden to bear. In seeing this cost we have prodded our Townships to deter the presence of sewer out of force majeure and have enacted policies that prevent its existence. There is no conversation about joint economic development districts, there are no conversations about TIF’s, there are no sewer fund plans to assist area citizens. We have stopped the conversation, and in doing so we have halted business expansion in our region.

This is a stance that needs conversation and needs careful planning and community input. For those of us who want and believe that our community has a bright future we must educate and advocate within our communities about this issue. Our County Commissioners, City Councilors, Township Trustees, and citizens need to be in lock step when it comes to areas for future development and how we can allow for it. The Port Authority is a business facilitation and attraction organization, we are not in the business of installing sewers, however, without sewering we aren’t very much in the business facilitation game either, and neither is anyone else.