Septic law will help Strait and Sound
Ted Cordua points out his two-tank septic system March 8 that he has proudly kept in an approved working order for more than 20 years. He said he is leery about funding another government department to track the maintenance of all septic systems in the county. Photo by Evan McLean
By Evan McLean
Sequim Gazette Staff writer
Clallam County, WA - State septic system requirements have left Clallam County and its residents to flush out a cost effective solution.
A state law passed in 2006 required 12 counties bordering the Puget Sound and the Strait of Juan de Fuca to prepare a management plan for on-site septic systems that addresses issues like identifying unknown systems, meeting new inspection requirements and identifying marine shoreline and other sensitive areas that may be impacted by septics.
“Puget Sound is a state and national treasure that we must protect for marine life and present and future generations,” said Rep. Sam Hunt (D-Olympia) in a press release about the bill. “We need this long-term strategy to restore Puget Sound to health.”
Clallam County formed an On-Site Septic System Work Group to find how the county will keep track of the required on-site tests, parameters and requisites of those tests and financing options for the added expenses the project will create. The group has until July 1 to draft a final plan.
“Realistically, it is going to take us a year of upfront work establishing operating systems,” Clallam County Environmental Health Director Andy Brastad said. “The July 1 deadline is when we need a draft in to the state.”
The law requires that conventional gravity-fed systems be tested once every three years while all other systems would be tested annually. The Work Group initially recommended professional testing to meet the requirements while allowing trained homeowners to do every other test.
“There are a couple key points in the requirements where we are allowed to have leeway and we’re not taking it,” said Michael McAleer Jr. with RE/MAX Fifth Avenue. “Nowhere in the state requirements does it say that inspections must be done by a professional.”
The group heard McAleer’s call to reduce expenses and agreed to allow a homeowner that is willing to go through a county-approved class to do all of the inspections. The only exception would be the initial test if the system is not on record or if it is in the Marine Recovery Area.
Marine Recovery and Sensitive Areas include shoreline tracts, watershed land near lakes or rivers, floodways and shellfish growing areas.
Organization of the training and testing information is something the county cannot get around. This likely will result in the county hiring additional staff to deal with detailed information for more than 13,000 registered systems and more than 6,000 unrecorded systems.
Ted Cordua owns a house with a two-tank septic that he said is in tip-top shape. He said he doesn’t appreciate the state passing laws that create more requirements for private property. He said he already gets his gravity system pumped and tested every three years and doesn’t understand why the requirements would create a new agency division.
“They want to set up another department, another layer of bureaucracy and I’m against that,” Cordua said.
Brastad said that the plan isn’t to punish diligent system owners like Cordua but to find failing and unrecorded systems and get them onto the grid in an approved working order.
The cost of the project to the county is still unknown. McAleer said that state funds likely would be made available, but shouldn’t be something to depend on. In order to meet the state requirements the group is recommending a monthly $1 or $1.50 fee to all OSS users’ property tax bill.
“When we’re rolling with this and people are turning up that need significant repairs or replacement, we’re trying to get a funding mechanism set up for those changes to take place,” Brastad said. “Right now Sound Bank has the best model.”
He and Mark Bowman from Sound Bank said that using a model is the most efficient way to assess small loans for septic replacement or upgrade. The inefficient way, Brastad said, is to have the 12 participating counties each have mechanisms for the state to recognize.
McAleer is looking to the future when assessing charges to the homeowners for septic testing. He said an inspection can be pricy right now at around $200 but imagines a county’s population going through a handful of septic system professionals.
“Either a bunch of companies are going to come out of the woodwork and move to the North Peninsula or we’re going to see an increase in cost due to the increased demand,” he said.
The county currently has a Septics 101 class that qualifies as septic training for now, but with the new recommendations a more intensive class may be required. Ken Warren with the Washington On-Site Septic System Association said that testing for a gravity system would last one day while pump systems would last two, costing between $200 and $250.
“We’re going to have bad people stacking the deck with false reports,” Jim Bennett of Port Angeles said at the March 12 meeting. “When these people are found they should be assessed huge fines.”
Brastad said that there are incentives and penalties in the recommendations. Homeowners that voluntarily submit tests on time may be charged a lower rate while those falling behind would get a hiked charge. Also the county wants the ability to assess a fine for homeowners totally unwilling to comply. It also will review compliance when approving permits.
The county has until 2012 to have all septic systems in a database undergoing routine tests. The county has educated more than 1,500 homeowners in its free Septics 101 classes. The next Septics 101 class is on March 28. More information about the OSS Work Group is available online at www.clallam.net/html/septic.htm.
On-Site Septic Workgroup information:
- More available online at www.clallam.net/html/septic.htm
- Next Septics 101 class is 6-8 p.m., March 28, at Railroad Park
- Final OSS Workgroup meeting is April 23 at the Clallam County Courthouse
- County Environmental Health Services 417-2543