Barry County Health Board holds public hearing

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Addresses resident concerns about proposed wastewater ordinance amendment

Over 75 people attended last Thursday's Barry County Health Department's public meeting at the FEMA Event Center in Cassville to provide input on the proposed property transfer changes to the current wastewater ordinance. Once staff presentations were done, it didn't take long for a vocal faction of the crowd to express their displeasure with the proposed changes.

"I think this is one more intrusion of government on our lives, and I do not want it here," said Luanna Uriel, one of the first residents called upon whose remarks were followed by applause from those in attendance.

The meeting began when Roger Brock, administrator for the department, welcomed everyone and provided an outline of the format that would be followed. He then introduced Kimberly Scritchfield, environmental public health specialist II, who provided information on the unique geological characteristics of Barry County and how wastewater flow is impacted.

Scritchfield noted that the typography of Missouri can easily lend itself to contaminated water due in large part to the karst cartography of the region. Karst cartography, according to Scritchfield, describes the landscape created by water erosion through soluble bedrock such as the limestone that is prevalent in Barry County. Caves, sinkholes and other voids are very common with Scritchfield citing that Barry County has 169 recorded caves and 89 recorded sinkholes.

This karst cartography significantly increases the movement of water through its cycle increasing the risk for contamination in streams and lakes, according to Scritchfield.

"In Missouri, water will move through the ground at about a mile per day -- sometimes more, sometimes less," Scritchfield said. "In a non-karst area, water will move through the ground at a rate of a few feet in a year."

Scritchfield continued by stating that this rapid flow can increase the chances for water contamination if a system has failed. She also noted that these types of contamination have resulted in known cases in Missouri, which have led to disease and even death from water-borne pathogens. She then brought the issue closer to home by citing a reported case in Barry County from 2012 of a child who contacted E. coli from the family's failed septic system.

Following Scritchfied's presentation, Jan Cox, environmental public health specialist II, provided specific information on the proposed amendment and how it will provide the department with the ability to better identify failing septic systems in the county. Cox specified that the amendment will only affect homeowners who wish to transfer their ownership to another party. Inspection costs would be the responsibility of the seller or the buyer, and the certificate would cost $25 and be in effect for four years if the property were to change hands again within that time period.

Several exemptions were also identified with a large majority concentrating on not requiring a certificate if the transfer were to take place within a family. Additional exceptions addressed foreclosures and buildings that would be demolished following the transfer.

David Canaletto, representing Ozarks Water Watch, then provided information on a $1 million grant/loan program that has been made available for the replacement of failed septic systems. The specific amount distributed is dependent upon an individual's income level, and to date $640,000 has been allocated from the program.

Brock opened the floor to questions following Canaletto's remarks and he called upon Sharon Ott-Deal, a real estate broker from Shell Knob. Ott-Deal stated that she had prior experience with these types of requirements as a result of the work she has done selling real estate in Stone County, which currently enforces an amended ordinance. Ott-Deal requested clarification on exemptions not addressed, enforcement, and the amendment's effect on lending institutions.

Brock responded by agreeing with the additional exemptions mentioned, starting that enforcement would be the same as current enforcement of the existing amendment, and noting that full compliance would not be a realistic expectation.

"Here's my opinion on that. There's always going to be some that slip through the cracks," Brock said. "However, if we get 70 to 80 percent compliance and we change 70 to 80 percent of bad systems into better systems, then we've done our job.

Uriel's comment on government intrusion followed Brock's statement on compliance, which set off a floodgate of comments and questions on the actual need for the amendment. Some individuals compared the proposed amendment to the White River Watershed issue and felt this was a way that they would lose their land. Brock responded to these concerns by noting his lifetime involvement in Barry County.

"I grew up in Barry County, and my family's been here since the beginning of Barry County," Brock said. "Us taking over land based on the water quality -- that isn't what this is all about, we didn't consult anybody on that. This is about trying to make failing septic systems less of an issue in Barry County."

Bill Gracy asked several questions and made statements in front of those assembled about his opposition to the amendment. Gracy further stated his opinion that this matter is better left to the buyer and the seller to work out.

"If you want to sell a system, that's between the seller and the buyer," Gracy said. "If I was going to buy a property that had a septic system on it, I'd want to check it. I don't need somebody telling me I've got to check it. If it's not broke, don't fix it."

Brock continued to answer question and address comments regarding the amendment. Ron Mueller detailed his attempts to receive accurate information about the amendment and shared his frustration with Brock for not providing handouts with specific details. Brock admitted that a mistake had been made and noted that a sign-up sheet was circulating to provide this information at a later date.

At the conclusion of the meeting, Brock stated that the board and staff would sit down and talk about what was learned during the meeting. Earlier he had stated that the department hoped to implement the amendment at the beginning of 2015.

John Starchman, board chairman agreed with that timeframe in a follow-up interview and noted that the year would be spent in gauging public opinion from all residents of the county.

"We planned to spend most of this year informing the public about this amendment and give people time to digest the concept," Starchman said. "If we feel we don't have public support, then we won't do it."

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