In Your Corner: Amish Family Responds To Complaint

By Ryan Elijah

September 2, 2011 Updated Sep 2, 2011 at 8:25 AM EDT

Last week we detailed a 12-year dispute between two Grabill families. The Hetrick family showed us tests from a creek behind both properties indicating extremely high levels of E. coli and bacteria. After receiving an order to repair from Allen County's Health Department, Jonas Wagler invited us to his property for a first hand look at his system. We agreed not to show any faces from the Amish community. Wagler's attorney, Dale Arnett, agrees the test numbers are concerning, but says they didn't come from the Wagler's septic system.

"those are not numbers of anything that was coming out of his perimeter drain or that would be any drainage from his septic system. That was in mud from a dry ditch, where the water can pool and E. coli can multiply", said Dale Arnett.

Jonas Wagler, along with several neighbors, walked us around the property showing us the system that was installed and inspected twelve years ago. The family is in the middle of their own dye testing and say they have numbers that vary greatly from the ones we saw last week. On Wednesday, they filed a court appeal in Allen Superior Court to the county's order to correct. They allege their system is not in failure and question the information used to obtain the inspection warrant.

"there's nothing to repair, if he doesn't repair it they can order him out of his house, that's why we appealed. We want to put the truth out that he's not polluting", said Arnett.

Many members of the Amish group we spoke with feel the county is unfairly targeting Amish properties and they question the testing.
Numbers supplied to us by the health department show 75 homes in Allen County are under an "order to repair" concerning their septic system, five of those are Amish owned.

The Health Department told us the Wagler's system was inspected for a 2-bedroom home, not for the capacity of 8 bedrooms, in 2 homes.
In their court document, the Waglers dispute the number of bedrooms on the system.

The Health Department also feels the dye test is accurate, saying the dye starts in the toliet and follows gravity. They feel the results clearly show the Wagler's system is in failure.

"our testing has shown that the dye, which is kind of an indicator for us that tracks the pollution, did make it into a waterway, so the system is not functioning properly.", said Mindy Waldron, Allen County Health Department Administrator.

It's clearly more than a fence that divides these two families as the neighbors took pictures throughout our tour. To be clear, the Wagler's feel the fact that they're Amish doesn't give them a right to pollute their surroundings and they believe strongly they're not.

"if he's polluting, he better fix it, but he's not", said Arnett.

A number of state lawmakers met with the Amish community at the Wagler's home Wednesday night, focusing on their responsibilities and their rights. Clearly, this debate is larger than a septic system in Grabill. Winchester Attorney, Dale Arnett, is also representing a number of Amish families in a pending lawsuit that seeks clarification on how local ordinances relate to state statutes. A ruling is expected any day on that lawsuit, while a Superior Court judge will soon hear the Wagler's petition to review the county's order to repair.

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