County septic rules meet the public

After Monday’s approval of the county’s on-site sewage systems plan by the Island County Board of Public Health, the next and final step will be a public hearing to adopt the code.

A series of septic system workshops were held in anticipation of the state’s July 1 deadline for counties developing a septic operations and maintenance plan.

The commissioners have pored over the document in past meetings and the only amendment made Monday was the omission of the word “resident” before “homeowner.”

A recommendation by the board to include the words “up to” when referring to $250 a day penalties for high risk violations was struck down after the prosecuting attorney deemed the words arbitrary and capricious.

A public hearing for revisions of the Island County code will be held Monday, July 16, at 1:30 p.m. in the commissioners’ hearing room in Coupeville. The code, once accepted, will implement the plan.

The board previously agreed to accept a risk-based delineation system for the county where septic systems are used. Only drainage basins surrounding Penn Cove and southern Holmes Harbor were tagged as “high risk” areas, the former based on criteria established by the state Department of Ecology.

Properties within 100 feet of the marine shoreline were added to the Category 3, or “increased risk,” areas.

Conventional septic systems, commonly called gravity systems, in the high risk categories will be required to be inspected once every three years and may be inspected by the homeowner or a professional.

All systems other than conventional gravity systems are considered alternative septic systems. Alternative systems, which include pressure systems, must be inspected every year by a professional inspector. An exception applies to homeowners not in high risk areas.

For the lowest risk category, the timelines are the same, but resident homeowners can inspect conventional systems and a system involving pressure distribution, which is the only case a homeowner can inspect that particular alternative system, except in southern Holmes Harbor and the areas surrounding Penn Cove.

In high risk areas, homeowners can only conduct inspections of conventional systems at the same frequency.

The first phase of the implementation process extends from July 1 through Dec. 31, 2008. Compliance checks will not be undertaken in the first 18 months. Phase I will be financed by the county general fund.

Phase II actions will include public notification, ensuring adequate inspection capacity, tracking inspection activity, and continuing public outreach and education.

The Island County Health Department intends to partner with WSU Extension to offer courses to train homeowners preferring to inspect their own systems.

“Community members are very interested in receiving this education,” said Keith Higman, environmental health director.

A three-letter, 90-day warning process will give septic system owners ample time to comply with regulations. Only after the 90 days has elapsed will daily fines be doled out.

“It will be used only as a last resort,” Higman said.

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