SIDNEY — A settlement hearing in the civil lawsuits brought against Amish families in Maplewood by the local health department finished unresolved Friday, Jan. 11.
The only thing publicly settled was to have future hearings, set for March 26-27.
More than 60 people from area Amish communities, along with neighbors, filled the Shelby County Common Pleas Court courtroom for the hearing in a show of support. The hearing, however, was behind closed doors.
Shelby County Prosecutor Tim Sell was joined by Assistant Eric Ambos and representatives of the health board and inspectors in a separate meeting room. The hearing had both sides making proposals and sharing that information with attorneys and concerned parties for consideration.
On Oct. 23, the Sidney-Shelby County Board of Health filed a civil lawsuit against four Amish families near Maplewood. The board says land owners must bring the properties into compliance with state health guidelines or have the buildings condemned and vacated.
The ongoing dispute centers on the lack of action by the property owners to remedy their sewage-handling system to prevent potential health problems for themselves and adjacent properties. The dispute has gone on for more than a year.
According to online court records, named as defendants are Joseph A. and Mattie E. Schwartz, 21720 state Route 47, Daniel J. and Mary D. Schwartz, 21450 state Route 47, Henry A. and Sarah E. Schwartz, 21690 state Route 47, and Jacob R. Schwartz, 21500 state Route 47, all of Maplewood.
Authorities are asking the court to declare the properties a nuisance; bar the families from occupying the properties, comply with the condemnation order and order the razing of all privies on the properties; award civil penalties; and have the defendants pay all court costs.
In countersuits filed by the Schwartz family, they are not seeking any financial awards but are asking to be allowed to live as their religion believes with a system as they wish to build.
Gray water system
Despite variances granted by the board for some items, the gray water system installation has resulted in the legal action, according to authorities.
Documents indicate that in late 2017, the health board received a complaint through the Salem Township Board of Trustees regarding “the disposal of human waste and improper plumbing in the dwelling on the property.” It included new structures and an existing building converted into living quarters, all without approval of the health department, township trustees and the Shelby County Building Department.
In December 2017, health inspectors found failures for not having a proper, residential sewage system installed, for having no gray water recycling system and improperly installed or altered plumbing due to no permits.
According to the Ohio Department of Health Administrative Code: Chapter 3701-29, “Gray water discharged to all gray water systems shall only consist of domestic type flows having the consistency and strength typical of gray water from domestic households.
“The source of gray water may include water from bathing, showering, washing clothes or laundry sinks. Gray water shall not contain water used to wash diapers or other materials soiled with human excreta or infectious materials or wastewater that has been in contact with toilet waste, toxic substances, cleaning chemicals other than soap, water softener backwash or any other hazardous household products.”
The administrative code can be found online at www.codes.ohio.gov.
On Feb. 15, Joseph Schwartz met with health officials and was informed of the violations and participated in a discussion of permits, variances and other remedies. No action was taken by the Schwartz family, according to court records.
In a letter dated April 5, 2018, Ambos gave formal notice to the family to correct the problems. On May 11, Joseph Schwartz requested a variance for the properties.
On June 20, the health board granted variances regarding the lack of electricity and plumbing, but ordered that the gray water system tank and privy vault must have a top constructed of concrete. The families installed a gray water system with a wooden top.
In a June 22 letter, Registered Sanitarian Michael McClain reviewed the ongoing violations and issued a 90-day order to vacate the buildings or obtain full compliance. The families had 45 days to obtain permits with construction to be done during the following 45 days.
On Aug. 7, claiming the lack of action by the defendants, the health department declared the properties condemned and placed public placards indicating that decision.
According to Sell, Friday’s meeting had a positive feel to the negotiations, but could not be resolved. He told the Sidney Daily News that attorneys for both sides will continue to negotiate between themselves prior to the late March hearings.
The writer is a regular contibutor of the Sidney Daily News.