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There is no safe way to hitch 100-plus horses outside City Hall. So the Amish of Hardin County have decided to buggy-pool.
A packed house is expected on Tuesday when the Kenton-Hardin Board of Health is to hear an appeal of its orders condemning two new Amish homes and evicting the families who live in them.
The hearing, which will begin at 6 p.m., is scheduled for the board’s meeting room.
The Amish say they seek a compromise that allows them to keep their plain and simple lifestyle. Hardin County Prosecutor Brad Bailey says this isn’t about the Amish breaking their tenet of shunning modern conveniences; it’s about protecting the environment and personal health.
Last summer, the health board said it would start enforcing rules that any new home must have a proper well and septic system, something the Old Order Amish have never had to do. Health inspectors said they would not force existing Amish homes to change.
Joni Hershberger, who moved his wife and their nine children back home to Hardin County from Circleville last summer, was the first in this era of new enforcement to apply for permits for the home he has since built.
Henry Yoder owns the other home that inspectors have cited. It’s less than a half-mile up the road. The Emory Gingerich family lives there. Both homes are on Township Road 140 in Dudley Township, one of three townships where the majority of the county’s estimated 200 Amish families live.
In January, the health board gave both men 30 days to bring the properties into compliance or leave. The men have done neither. In fact, they refused to sign or accept the written orders.
Hershberger has paid to have his agricultural well independently tested; the paperwork says the water is safe. His outhouse, he said, hurts no one.
“They think they’re fighting three of us, but they aren’t,” Hershberger said as he stood among the construction materials outside his house last week. “We stand as one community.”
The families haven’t hired lawyers, even though the next step if they lose this appeal will be Common Pleas Court. Hershberger said he doesn’t want Tuesday’s meeting to be confrontational.
“Seems to me, there ought to be some kind of compromise,” he said. “We’ll let them give their sixpence, and then we’ll see where we stand. But I can tell you this: I’m not moving.”
The Amish forgo modern technology. They currently empty their own outhouses and spread the waste on the land. But health rules say they must hire an approved contractor to build a concrete, watertight pit under the privy and have the waste hauled away.
The Amish resist septic systems with electric pumps, or even pressure-powered ones. Hershberger said: “Our forefathers didn’t need any of that, and we don’t, either.”
But environmental concerns trump all, Bailey said. “The health board has bent over backward for these people. We’re not looking for trouble. We’re looking for everyone to follow the regulations on the books.”
All other Ohio counties with an Amish population have long ago settled similar disputes, although Knox County had to go to court to do it. Logan County, for example, agreed to let the Amish build their own pits as a compromise. Holmes County, with the state’s largest Amish population, says the Amish follow the rules.
Government skirmishes with the Amish are infrequent, but they always attract attention, said Dan Robinson, who has worked at the Kenton Times for more than 40 years. There have been fights over reflective signs on buggies, over the zoning of sawmills, and over the governance of roadside food stands and in-home food sales.
“People see that the Amish should have to live by the same rules as everyone else,” he said. “At the same time, people see that they’ve been living that way for such a long, long time they don’t understand why anyone would force them to change.”
By HOLLY ZACHARIAH
The Columbus Dispatch