Septic owners face new rules

Changes to the state’s on-site sewage system rules are swirling around and have made some homeowners angry about costly inspection requirements.

Under the proposed changes, septic systems would be subject to more stringent inspection guidelines, be required to be further back from the water’s edge, and service providers could be subject to local regulations.

Maryanne Guichard, director of the state Office of Environmental Health and Safety, said the changes to the code, which hasn’t been updated in the last decade, are necessary to protect human safety.

“It is putting more emphasis on homeowners what the requirements are,” Guichard said. “What we’re trying to do is make it real clear to the homeowners what their responsibilities are.”

But some home owners, such as Coupeville’s Scotty Burrous, said the new rules put an unfair burden on them.

“I think the implementation part of this was not thought out, or else it was meant to be swept under the rug,” Burrous said.

Keith Higman, Island County environmental health director, said the proposed changes have the ability to impact how and where septic systems are installed in Island County. He said the county would anticipate tens of thousands of inspections each year if the new regulations take effect.

Higman said septic systems serve 72 percent of the county’s population. Each year the county issues approximately 900 permits for new septic systems, he said.

“The way the draft regulation is written, the responsibility is that of the owner,” Higman said.

Island County Commissioner Mc McDowell said he thinks the state is overstepping its bounds with the proposed changes.

“It’s all done under the guise of public safety and public health,” he said. “I’d like to see how many people have been made sick by failing septic systems.”

Some counties already provide an inspection service for their residents. Higman said that because of the high concentration of septic systems in the county, Island County will be unable to provide such services.

“I can’t even imagine that we would want to even explore that as an option,” Higman said.

This means that homeowners will have to pay for inspections themselves, a venture that Bruce Seltveit, owner of Bruce’s Backhoe and Septic Tank Pumping, said would cost homeowners between $75 to $175. The price can increase further if the tank needs to be dug up, he said.

McDowell said the cheapest permit in the public health department is $62. this means it would cost homeowners at least that much through the county for the inspections.

“It’s a huge expansion of government into ublic life,” he said.

Current regulations say that a tank must be inspected at least once every three years to determine if pumping is necessary, Guichard said. According to the proposed changes, however, homeowners must obtain a complete evaluation of the system components and/or property to determine functionality, maintenance needs and compliance with regulations or any permits.

These changes could present a double-edged sword for the septic industry in the county, Higman said. On one side, it would create a demand for the service. On the other, not enough licensed inspectors are in the county.

Seltveit said he already has a difficult time fulfilling all of his work orders.

“One of the problems we have right now is there’s not enough (inspectors),” he said. “I don’t know how the law can be there if there’s not enough of us.”

The state plans on releasing the final draft of the proposed changes at the beginning of October, Guichard said. A public hearing on the issue will occur at the health board’s Dec. meeting, she said.

“We need to treat these as long-term solutions,” Guichard said.

You can reach News-Times reporter Eric Berto at

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