Three years ago, change rained down on Jacksontown.

Three years ago, change rained down on Jacksontown.

Despite decades of resistance, a state-mandated public sewer line was extended to the unincorporated southeastern Licking County community of about 200 residents.

Now, residents say, the area is drying up.

Residents of nearly 20 properties in Jacksontown said they have lost water or seen their wells dry up in recent months. Some have installed new wells, and others are doing so. Many suspect the now-completed sewer project might be to blame for their water woes.

Mark Ramsey has lived at his Jacksontown house for decades. Neither he nor his father, who owned the home before him and used sprinkler systems for his landscaping work, ever ran out of water.

That is, until recently, Ramsey said Dec. 15 during a community meeting in Newark in front of the Licking County commissioners.

"For 40 years, I've lived there, never ran out of water until this year," he said. "Ever since this sewer came through Jacksontown, it ruined the water."

This month, after being contacted by several Jacksontown residents about the problem, the county said in a statement that any impact on wells due to the sewer project would have been immediately identified. The sewer project was completed more than a year ago.

Residents are still seeking answers. They wonder why a well survey wasn't conducted prior to the sewer project and whether precautions were taken to preserve groundwater during the installation.

"My objective on this is to discover, scientifically, and in an objective manner, where did that water go?" said Jacksontown resident Jim Douglas.

The lack of water has meant extra costs for many residents at a difficult time of year. Most estimate that new, deeper wells have or will cost between $6,000 and $8,000.

"This sewer's caused all this hardship for all these folks," resident Terri Gardner said. "This is so expensive for all these folks, and at this time of the year, especially. We're right before the holidays, in the dead of winter."

Before the sewer line was built, the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency had said that untreated sewage from failing septic systems constituted a public-health nuisance, and it ordered the county to serve the area.

Licking County Water and Wastewater Director Kevin Eby said there was no requirement for a well survey prior to the project.

Eby said he contacted the Ohio Department of Natural Resources last week to request that a hydrologist visit the properties and evaluate the wells. He said he expects a report in about two weeks.

Commissioner Tim Bubb said Dec. 15 that although the county built the mandated sewer line reluctantly, the project was engineered appropriately and was approved by the EPA.

"We've acted responsibly all the way through this. That doesn't in any way diminish your concerns or what you've said here today," he said. "We look forward to this information from ODNR because that will give us a little bit more definitive information as to what might have caused the problem."

"We want to know the truth," Eby told residents at the meeting. "If we caused this without a shadow of a doubt, we will reimburse people ... or we will make it right with the residents."