County council discusses septic rules
By Jack Kintner
The Whatcom County Council
discussed new state-mandated on-site sewage (OSS) regulations
late last month but in the end decided to wait for more
specific recommendations from the Whatcom County Health
Department before making a decision about if and when a
homeowner would be allowed to inspect his own septic system.
The health department, following recommendations from an ad-hoc advisory committee and its own health board, had been in favor of having all inspections done by licensed professionals.
At issue is the potential costs for compliance that would be up to the homeowner. The inspections are not at issue since the state passed a requirement last year for inspections every one to three years depending on the system. They left the method and enforcement up to the counties. Whatcom County currently charges $150, but that could be lowered if homeowners are allowed to do it themselves.
The county council had received the health department’s draft of proposed regulations last August that required all inspections to be done by licensed specialists, but following some community discussion Whatcom County Executive Pete Kremen asked the health department to work with council member Barbara Brenner in amending the ordinance to allow for homeowner inspections in certain circumstances. One of those compromises would relax requirements in non-sensitive areas but the county has not yet determined exactly where those are.
Realtor Peter Roberts said if the inspection charge was $350 as some people have said then to do all of the estimated 30,000 systems in the county would cost over $10 million. He said he felt that the cost and the responsibility should be borne by the health department.
Health department director Regina Delahunt said they did have report forms available and when the final plan is submitted, it may be that all systems would have to have an initial inspection by a licensed inspector. After that, a homeowner could do his own, although the rules would differ in some sensitive areas.
Blaine resident Jan Hansen said that for those who found the cost of annual inspections burdensome, her bill for a year’s worth of sewer service in Blaine is about $700, two to three times the likely cost of annual inspections.
Still, the health department’s desire for licensed inspections was motivated in part by the fact that when inspections were done in a limited area 10 years ago, funded by a state grant, 20 percent of the systems were found to be failing.
Drayton Harbor oyster farmer Geoff Menzies, who served on the ad-hoc health department committee to devise the new procedures, said that with 30,000 or so systems in the county, county officials don’t know yet what they have, but there could be a problem.
“We just don’t know, so we need high-quality inspections,” he said. “After all, the polluters should pay.”