Septic systems cause for concern

GREENFIELD — Failing septic systems in a small neighborhood near Riley Park allow raw sewage to enter Brandywine Creek, prompting the county health department to recommend an annexation for an area officials say needs to be connected to city sewer lines.

A public hearing is scheduled for Wednesday on the Hill Grove addition annexation, which would bring about 35 acres on East Main Street and Morristown Pike into the city. Homes would be switched from septic tanks to city sewers, a half-million-dollar project.

The annexation affects about 25 homes and would add about 50 residents, according to the fiscal plan.

Officials say the annexation is necessary because raw sewage is seeping into yards and, at times, the creek, which violates state law. Additionally, it’s a matter of public health and safety, they say.

The affected area is not connected to the city’s sewer systems. Instead, homes have septic systems, which are aging and in some cases failing.

The public hearing gives residents the chance to speak with Greenfield City Council members about the annexation and any concerns they have, city utility director Mike Fruth said.

For about a year, city officials have been working toward the annexation at the recommendation of the Hancock County Health Department.

So far, the city council has approved a fiscal plan that outlines how the annexation and subsequent sewer work would be funded and has preliminarily approved the ordinance that redraws the city boundaries.

After Wednesday’s public hearing, city officials will be poised to give the annexation a second and final approval before the ordinance enters a remonstrance period, when residents can formally object to the annexation.

Mayor Chuck Fewell said the only way to help the residents and keep the sewage from discharging into the creek is to annex the area and connect the homes to the sewer system.

“We want to be a good citizen, and we want to make sure it doesn’t go into the creek,” he said. “We’re not being aggressive; we’re just trying to be a service and helpful.”

Though a new state law regarding annexations went into effect July 1, City Attorney Tom Billings believes the old standards apply because the city initiated the annexation about a year ago, before the new law was adopted.

The new law would stop the annexation if 65 percent of landowners signed a remonstrance against it. If 51 percent signed a remonstrance, it would be sent to a judge for a ruling.

Fruth said more than 50 percent of landowners are on board with the annexation. Others might oppose it because of the fees they’ll have to pay to hook up to the city system. Additionally, annexed homeowners would be required to pay city taxes.

Taxes and fees aside, the annexation is the best route to keep homeowners’ yards and the creek from filling with sewage, he said.

Officials have acknowledged a remonstrance is possible — typically they’ll annex only if all landowners are on board — but say the circumstances are extraordinary.

“Any time you do an annexation, people can remonstrate; but this particular situation is one of the few I can recall trying to annex where it’s a matter of public health and safety,” Fruth said. “The city is making an effort to provide this as quickly as possible.”

Should the annexation be approved, the city will proceed with designing and installing sanitary sewers in the area. A company has already been hired to start design services.

Because of the severity of the problem, the city will move quickly to run new sewer lines out to the area once it’s annexed.

Officials estimate the cost to extend services to the area will be about $550,000.

The public hearing will begin at 7 p.m. in the council chambers at city hall, 10 S. State St.

Find your voice

What: Public hearing regarding annexation of the Hill Grove addition near Riley Park

When: 7 p.m. Wednesday

Where: Council chambers, McClarnon Government Center, 10 S. State St.

Samm Quinn is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at 317-477-3275 or