Sound Off: Beware of costly septic program
July 3, 2008 · Updated 11:06 PM
The Island County Health Department is promoting a massive inspection and reporting program to solve alleged pollution of Puget Sound by failed septic systems. This program will require all property owners to inspect their septic systems on an annual or tri-annual basis and to make a written report to the county.
Of course, this will require all property owners to be instructed and trained to properly inspect their own system, or hire an expert to inspect the system, and of course, these instructors and experts must be trained and paid.
To date, no specific data or information has been published or provided by the county to establish that, in fact, septic systems are polluting Puget Sound. In addition, no information or data has been provided to establish that septic systems are failing an any significant rate. This raises the following questions. How many septic systems failed in Island County in the last year; the last five years? Also, in the last five years; how many court actions were filed by the Health Department to enforce correction of failed septic systems? In reality, are failed septic systems a significant problem?
This program also fails to recognize that septic system owners are responsible for and dependent upon proper operation of their septic system as a matter of health and daily life. Proper operation of septic systems is self-policing; if the septic system does not work, the owner is knee deep in trouble and will take immediate corrective action. Owners do not need Big Brother watching over them.
This proposed program also contains some Draconian enforcement provisions. In effect, this program will establish the Island County Health Department as prosecutor, jury, and judge in enforcing compliance with the required inspections and reporting. The proposed fines for non-compliance of $25 per day up to $250 per day are far in excess of requirements and entirely punitive.
These proposed enforcement measures are an attempt by the Health Department, for the sole purpose of expediency, to evade the legal process through the courts, and to establish the Island County Health Department as a pseudo-court with authority to impose fines and as a last resort to file liens (confiscate) against property. This would set an extremely dangerous precedent. The imposition of fines and confiscation of property should be reserved for the established courts of law.
The Island County Health Department already has adequate authority through the district courts to enforce compliance with laws and regulations governing health issues.
My advice to the Island County Board of Health and the Island County Health Department is to identify the problem before attempting to correct a non-existent problem. This proposed program is too massive, too complex, too expensive, too invasive, and completely unjustified.
With respect to the July 1, 2007 deadline to develop an on-site septic plan, the Island County Board of Health should advise, whoever set the so-called deadlines, that available data and information do not support any significant septic system problems and that existing procedures are adequate.
A public hearing on the necessary code amendment to implement the on-site sewage system plan will be held Monday, July 16, at 1:30 p.m. in the Commissioners Hearing Room in Coupeville.
Donald P. Brady lives in Oak Harbor.