Friday, March 10, 2006

Septic-system regulations up to commissioners

County's health and water quality focus of proposal

Express Staff Writer

A proposal to mandate professional management of all septic systems in Blaine County will be reviewed by the Blaine County Commission Tuesday, March 14, at 10:15 a.m. in the Old County Courthouse, in Hailey.

Specifically, the commissioners will review an ordinance to establish a county Onsite Water and Sewer District, which would administer mandatory professional management of the county's approximately 3,600 septic systems. The overall goal is to better protect public health and water resources throughout the county.

The proposal, which is a joint effort between Blaine County, the South Central Health District and development consultant Developing Green, was officially announced last week and is still in the early stages of development.

The partners held a public workshop Tuesday to give citizens an opportunity to comment on the administration of the district's fees and inspections.

Morgan Brown, of Ketchum-based Developing Green, said some who attended the workshop questioned how the commissioners could approve an ordinance when all of the details have yet to be hammered down.

But Brown said the ordinance is designed to simply determine whether septic systems should be professionally managed, and the "rules and policies will evolve gradually over the next several months."

The targeted launch date of the district is Oct. 1, 2006, at which time the district would begin a comprehensive inventory of all septic systems in the county. That process could take up to two years, said Don Wright, Blaine County operations manager. Once the inventory is complete, the professional management will be administered. Those who fail to comply with the district's regulations could face a fine.

Brown said educating the public and collecting feedback will be key to the success of the district. He added that several people aren't even aware that they own septic systems.

"They move from the city and buy a house and never know they even own a septic system," he said, adding that systems need to be pumped every three to four years to operate properly.

Other criticism at the workshop surrounded the potential fees that septic owners would have to pay under the new regulations. But Brown said he expects the fees to be relatively minimal—in the $5-per-month range. In comparison, the city of Hailey charges $28 a month for residential water and sewer services.

Blaine County Commissioner Tom Bowman may have summed it up best last week when he said, "We don't want to get to a point where our drinking water is foul from our own waste."

The effort to develop the district is being funded by two Environmental Protection Agency grants totaling $120,000, plus $13,500 from the county's water-quality fund.

If the ordinance is approved, it will be the first of its kind in Idaho. Similar ordinances have passed in other, more populous states.

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