Pictured, from left, are Highland County commissioners David Daniels, Jeff Duncan and Terry Britton. (HCP Photo/Caitlin Forsha)
Pictured, from left, are Highland County commissioners David Daniels, Jeff Duncan and Terry Britton. (HCP Photo/Caitlin Forsha)
Highland County commissioners Jeff Duncan, Terry Britton and David Daniels announced an agreement for a new development at the Leesburg Industrial Park, as well as plans to revise the county’s sewer use rules, during their Wednesday, April 7 meeting.

Commissioners voted 3-0 early in the meeting to authorize a purchase agreement contract with Nelson Family Enterprises.

“This is the beginning of an exciting project that’s going to be put there at the Leesburg Industrial Park,” Britton said.

According to Britton, the engineering and industrial company based in Sioux City, Neb. is purchasing a five-acre tract at the Leesburg Industrial Park to build an approximately 16,000 square-foot distribution warehouse. The expansion is expected to add 14 jobs locally for the company, which Britton said has “done construction all over the United States.”

“We had call from Nelson’s back in September of last year,” Britton said. “They were interested in taking a look at our Leesburg Industrial Park for some expansion. So we turned that over to the CIC [Community Improvement Corporation], and they’ve been working with that company since then.

“I think it’s an exciting time for us. We’ve got a new facility and a new company that’s coming in to the county.”

“We’ve had that industrial park for several years, and hopefully this is a seed to get some things started over there and see some activity,” Duncan added. “That’s a good thing.”

Another announcement in Wednesday’s meeting was that commissioners are planning to update the county’s sewer use rules for the first time in over two decades.

“We’ve been taking a look at the Highland County sanitary sewer and sewer use rules that encompasses several different sewer systems that the county operates,” Daniels said. “It’s Rolling Acres, Rocky Fork Lake obviously, a system over outside of Greenfield and also a lakeside sewer system that we operate.”

Daniels said that the county has not updated any of the regulations since “we were doing the Rocky Fork Lake project,” which he said was “between 20 and 25 years ago.”

“Since that time, there have been a number of issues that come up that we feel it’s time to address,” Daniels said. “Some of the issues are operational. Some are financial.”

Daniels estimated “around $500,000-plus of outstanding debt on Rocky Fork Lake” in the past 20 years, including unpaid bills and assessments. “From 2019 alone, we’e got around $73,000 that is outstanding on unpaid usage fees at the lake,” he said.

The county has also seen increased operational costs and stress on the system due to people using “banned substances” and tapping into the system without prior approval.

“When we look at the primary issues as far as the system is concerned, we’re looking at increased operational and maintenance costs due to banned substances, unapproved and uninspected connections,” Daniels said. “People have been buying property in and around these different systems and installing without inspection or without notifying our offices that they’re hooking into the sewer. That allows for opportunity for I&I [inflow and infiltration] and increased costs.

“We’ve also had some developments that are taking place down there that have taxed the system, and we need to have a way to address that and how we will bill and how we will charge for that.”

Although no definitive changes have been outlined yet, Daniels said one of the most significant revisions planned is revising the billing system and how individuals will be permitted to pay their fees.

“One of the things that will probably be the biggest change that most people will see is we’re looking at how we’re going to change our billing system,” he said. “It’s been current practice that we allow people to pay at the end of the year, or we roll it over and put it onto their taxes, and in my opinion, that’s led to some of the delinquencies we’ve had.

“We’re going to try to work on implementing a system where people have got to pay timely, and if they don’t, we’re looking at how we can disconnect their service for nonpayment of the utility. It’s not fair to the people that are paying. We even have original assessments that are delinquent from 20 years ago down there. It’s time to address those things so that we can keep the cost of operation down as low for everybody as we possibly can.”

Changes in service costs, including penalties “for putting unapproved substances down in there that cause pump failure,” are also being considered, he said.

A copy of the current sewer use rules, as well as relevant forms, are available at the commissioners’ office.

“There are forms that you are supposed to use when you are hooking up a new service that are being largely ignored,” Daniels said. “As we’ve gone down through and have done an initial audit of a number of different properties, we found where we’ve got people that have been hooked in without the benefit of inspection. We’ve got more than the number of dwellings hooked into one pump. We’ve got people put on multiple units that are only paying one user fee. All those things need to be addressed.”

Daniels said that additional information is expected to be announced in “the next two to three weeks” as discussions continue. “We thought it was important that we begin talking about this now and let people know,” he said. “There are changes coming.”

“To reiterate, we haven’t done any upgrades to that use ordinance for 20 years,” Duncan added. “We’re catching up.”

• • •

Britton also announced during Wednesday’s meeting that Lindsey Hesch of National Grid Renewables reached out to commissioners Saturday with information on changes to their two planned projects in the local area.

As previously reported, Dodson Creek Solar, LLC has not yet had a public meeting. According to National Grid Renewables (https://nationalgridrenewables.com/dodson-creek), “The Dodson Creek Solar Project (Dodson) is an up to 117 megawatt (MW) solar development located in Highland County, Ohio. Dodson will span approximately 1,000 acres and will be connected to the electric grid via a new substation adjacent to the existing Hillsboro – Clinton County 138 kV transmission line.”

Hesch wrote that the company has “made an adjustment to the project area per landowner request” and is “moving forward.” A virtual public meeting is tentatively planned for April 28.

In addition, the project area for Fayette Solar, a proposed solar farm “primarily in Fayette County” with an interconnection in Highland County, has now been updated to include arrays in part of Madison Township in Highland County.

“We originally had not been planning to propose solar arrays within Madison Township, but due to an unforeseen mineral rights issue in a portion of our project area in Fayette County, we have proposed approximately 7.5 MW to be built within Madison Township,” Hesch wrote.

Duncan said that National Grid Renewables has already notified Madison Township trustees, as well as informing the commissioners.

“They were just going to have the connection point there, but now the landowner wanted to rearrange what they were doing, so this is a change for that project,” Britton said. “They also reminded us that on the Dodson Creek Solar, there’d been a delay on the public meetings for the community and that they were going to work toward a public information meeting to be held on April 28.”

In other discussion:

• Britton announced that the county has hired Gene Reif as a new deputy dog warden, replacing Macy Walker, whom Britton said moved out of the area. The county is also working toward hiring a replacement for Katie Smith as director Highland County Job & Family Services, as Smith announced her resignation March 17.

• Commissioners authorized a transfer of funding from Public Assistance to Public Children Services in the amount of $2,682.23 and voted to send a letter of support for Highland County Community Action Organization.

Commissioners also issued a proclamation for Sexual Assault Awareness Month and met with Alternatives to Violence Center director Dara Gullette. For more, go to: https://highlandcountypress.com/Content/In-The-News/In-The-News/Article/Proclamation-issued-in-recognition-of-Sexual-Assault-Awareness-Month/2/20/67831.