There is a widespread effort underway to classify the Garrett Ridge Waterline Extension Project in Vinton County as a COVID-19 Emergency Eligible project. The proposed project would connect 53-70 homes in Jackson Township which currently do not have public-water service.

The concerns center around the potential spread of COVID-19 as water is an agent, the educational impact on children, the problems with shallow wells with salt water. Currently, these residents are hauling water in from various vendors.  The issue of the water-line extension has become politically charged as residents have placed “No Water, No Vote” signs in their yards. Many officials on the state, regional, and federal levels are gathering evidence to show public water lines are the only effective way to create a viable and safe source of water. 

Commissioner Mark Fout told The Telegram he has reached out to and received support letters from the Vinton County Local Schools and the Vinton County Health Department (VCHD) and noted a letter from the Jackson Township Trustees was in the works. U.S. Congressman Steve Stivers’ office is also supporting the project and plans to look for federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES) funds.

Commissioner Fout stated, “The kids cannot wash their hands if they do not have water.” VCHD officials are quick to agree with him and states there is no financially feasible solution to hook up to public water and offers proof to back it up.

VCHD Administrator Janelle McManis wrote, “The private water wells in this area have historic issues. The majority of them are at 25 feet to avoid salt water. Not only are they shallow, but they are also low-yielding. The drinking of salt water is dangerous and can lead to death.”

Vinton County Local Schools Superintendent Rick Brooks noted this project is important to three schools: West Elementary, the Middle School and High School where these affected students attend.

Brooks wrote, “When families lack an effective water source, it is challenging to access good drinking water and provide proper hygiene opportunities. Both are essential to preventing the spread of the virus. The Vinton County Local School District students in Jackson Township would undoubtedly benefit from this project.”

 If the county can find the money, the Jackson County Water Co. (JCWC) is interested in serving the potential new customers.

JCWC General Manager Larry Foster told The Telegram via phone recently the company is already at work in the area.

“The project is under study and we have determined there is more water pressure there than thought. We are making no promises because financing has to be arranged and we must make sure the project works from a hydraulic standpoint.”

Foster also points out the costs in Jackson Township are higher because of high elevations that have to be considered. He credits Commissioner Fout for calling him and even attending a JCWC Board meeting in Jackson to point out the critical need.

Foster added the company has completed emergency projects in the past and hopes this one qualifies. The General Manager says there are two possible projects under consideration. At this time, only the Garrett Ridge expansion (55-70 or so homes) is under study. The second and larger project being looked at involves making a loop that would connect to other water connections and serve a much bigger area of approximately 200 homes. The cost there is going to be higher and a water tank would have to be installed.

Fout also spoke to Congressman Steve Stivers recently about obtaining a $1.5-million grant to complete the first project involving 55-70 homes or hopefully the second project (not under study yet) which would serve 200 customers. He also wants the state to release some of its large H20 funds to help with rural water projects. Congressman Stivers stated he is going to “double down” on this issue. The congressman has been there for Vinton County before as he lobbied the Ohio General Assembly to help create a governmental response to end food deserts.

The Jackson Township trustees are closest of all to the situation and are also pressing for some type of project to bring public water lines to the Garrett Ridge area. Township Trustee Ray Seitz referred to signs in residents’ yards with such messages as “No Water/No Vote” to send a message to those in government that water service is very much on their minds.

Seitz told The Telegram, “The drive to get water has become a community effort. I paid several hundred dollars for signs. The people around on Garrett Ridge and Pretty Run Road stuck together and put them out. They are the people without water and we need to help them.”

The process is ongoing and officials hope that they can move this project forward.

On a final point, Commissioner Fout stated there is also another professional opinion that bodes well to this process.

“One of my close friends owns a water drilling company,” said Fout. “He says it is not possible for his company, or any other, to serve [these] houses with deep wells. The only option these people have to get quality water is putting pipe in the ground. That is what we are shooting for now.”