April 25, 2013
KENTON - A truce has been reached, at least for now, between the Amish of Hardin County and health officials. The two sides have been at odds over rules for wells and outhouses at new Amish homes.
With a clock ticking toward eviction because of orders issued on April 10 that condemned two new homes, the Amish apologized to the Kenton-Hardin Board of Health on Tuesday night and said they wanted to compromise.
The officials seemed willing to listen.
"I want to apologize to the board," said Cletus Lambright, a bishop and leader in the Amish community. "This is all new to us, and we didn't know what to do."
Last summer, the board said it no longer would overlook the Amish when it came to enforcing regulations that require potable wells and watertight tanks under privies. It decided it would not force existing homes to comply but that new homes must now meet state code.
The families of Joni Hershberger and Emory Gingerich are building houses that they already are living in, and those became the first targets.
On Tuesday, health officials said Hershberger has designed a cap for his well and it has been conditionally approved. He still must enclose the gasoline engine that powers his pump in a galvanized container to prevent oil and water contamination. He said he will do that.
In addition, the board said the families can design and build their own watertight tanks for under their outhouses. An engineer still will have to inspect and approve them, and the Amish agreed to that.
The Amish, who had resisted leach beds for their wash water, now say they will comply because the health board will allow them to dig their own trenches and use non-electrified systems that are much smaller than those required for non-Amish homes.
The problem with Gingerich's well, however, is not as easily solved. It's inside a well-house that is attached to his home by a breezeway. And that, said Environmental Health Director Shane Lotts, is never allowed. If a problem develops, proper equipment cannot be brought in to fix it.
Gingerich asked for a variance and said he would agree to dig a new well if that ever is necessary. The board said that wasn't good enough but urged Lotts to continue to work with Gingerich on a solution.
If both families make progress on the issues, the orders to condemn their homes will not be enforced, said Hardin County Prosecutor Brad Bailey.
"We're not going to evict anybody if you're moving in the right direction," he told the dozen Amish who attended the meeting. "But you have to be acting in good faith and doing something to comply."
The board did refuse to give the Amish an exemption - something four other Ohio counties reportedly have done - to allow them to continue to spread human waste on their own land.
The Amish said after the meeting that they'll have it hauled away.
Hershberger, who along with his wife and nine children was facing eviction, told the board he was relieved by the compromises.
"From the beginning, it seemed like we were told there was nothing we could do," he said. "We want to work this out."