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Blaine Levin slides through the mud in the front yard of a Mill Street house during Mill Fest. (PATRICK CONNOLLY | STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER)

The pee problem: Student Senate and City Council turn to portable toilets to fight fest's public urination

Clarification appended.

A new initiative could provide relief to festgoers this season.

A resolution Student Senate passed earlier this month will help fund portable toilets for this fest season. The senate already funded five for Mill Fest on Saturday.

Athens Police Chief Tom Pyle said public urination is a big problem at fests. Many residents don’t want to allow strangers into their homes to use the bathroom — they worry people will steal possessions or track mud across their floors.

Pyle said that at one house party he shut down on Saturday, so many people were urinating in the backyard of the house that the urine was pooling in the mud. People tracked mud from those urine-laced puddles into the house, and he watched one woman fall face-first into the mud.

Even if residents do want to allow festgoers into their homes, Pyle said the residences simply aren’t built to accommodate the thousands of people who might attend a single fest, and the constant flushing could have a big impact on the residents’ water bills.

At last year’s Mill Fest, raw sewage spilled onto the sidewalk. It was unclear what caused the leak.

Student Senate President Hannah Clouser said the toilets cost $100 each. The senate helped rent them from A-Z Sanitation and will refund half the cost of the toilets to the residents who housed them as long as the toilets go back to the company in good shape.

The total reimbursement for Mill Fest was $250, Clouser said. She said Student Senate ran into trouble with OU Legal Affairs because senate money is technically a public fund, so Senior Associate Vice President for Finance and Administration Deborah Shaffer allowed the senate to use money from OU Foundation funds. OU Foundation funds are private and subject to less regulation.

In total, senate will be able to disburse $1,200 throughout fest season.

“I’m very impressed by and proud of the university's willingness to work with us instead of just shut us down and say no,” Clouser said.

Athens City Councilman Pat McGee, I-At Large, also introduced a resolution Monday that would allow people to place portable toilets on sidewalks or parking spaces.

One concern Student Senate members and local officials shared was that someone would tip over a portable toilet with someone inside. Athens Mayor Steve Patterson said at Monday's council meeting that the potential for tipping toilets might increase liability on the part of the city if McGee’s ordinance passed. To try to address this concern, Student Senate only subsidized handicap-accessible toilets, believing them to be harder to tip.

“That would be terrible if a port-a-potty got tipped over and the initiative that was supposed to created student safety ended in disaster,” Clouser said.

Clouser said some people in Student Senate opposed the measure because they thought students would use the money to buy more beer or that it would endorse fests. She, on the other hand, saw it as a measure that accurately represents the needs of students.

“Like it or not, Ohio University is kind of known for fests, and that’s what a lot of our constituents, as Student Senate, are doing on the weekends,” she said.

Clouser said she saw several people using the toilets Saturday. Citations for public urination did appear to decrease at this year’s Mill Fest weekend. The Ohio University Police Department cited 12 people with public urination over the weekend, while the department cited 20 at last year’s event.

While Clouser’s initiative has already taken effect, McGee’s resolution would still need to be read at two City Council meetings before it could have any impact. The resolution has also proven to be contentious among council members.

Because McGee included the idea in a resolution that primarily aimed to make it difficult for property owners to needlessly block the streets during construction, several council members said the idea should be included separately in a later resolution.

Patterson also said the sidewalks are already too crowded to handle portable toilets, and blocking the sidewalk with them could create accessibility issues.

If McGee does reintroduce the measure as a separate ordinance, it would delay it at least another two weeks.

McGee said after the meeting that he thinks the other members were primarily opposed to the idea of toilets on sidewalks simply because it has to do with fest. He also expressed concern for students who have nowhere to use the bathroom during fests.

“You know, I don’t believe for a second that you young people enjoy going in bushes or risking being caught by cops,” he said.


This article has been updated to clarify the total amount of money senate will be able to disburse for port-a-potties.

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