Wastewater ordinance still under review

Wednesday, January 22, 2014
Kimberly Scritchfield, environmental public health specialist with the Barry County Health Department, explains how property transfer certificates would work if the county's wastewater ordinance is amended to include them. Kyle Troutman/editor@cassville-democrat.com

Realtors, title companies find flaws in property transfer certificate plan

The Barry County Health Department continued pushing its wastewater ordinance amendment plan this week, but even if the department goes forward, it would not be in 2014.

"We're not ready to move on this new ordinance requiring certification of septic systems for now," said John Starchman, chairman of the Barry County Health Department board of trustees. "It will be at least another year."

By January of 2015, the department hopes to amend its wastewater ordinance to include a requirement for homeowners to obtain a property transfer certificate, which verifies the adequacy of existing wastewater treatment systems on any given property.

According to Roger Brock, Barry County Health Department administrator, the only way for the department to learn of a failed septic system now is to investigate a resident report. If the ordinance amendment is approved, it would require systems to be inspected and approved by the buyer or seller of the home.

"There are lots of failed systems out there we never get complaints about," he said. "We have a lot of metal septic tanks and OTH (over-the-hill) pipe systems in the county. If we find a failed system, we issue a violation and the homeowner has 30 days to get a permit and fix it.

"If they do not respond after 30 days, we issue another violation and they have 10 days to respond. If they still do not get a permit, we put a notice of non-compliance on the property deed."

According to health department reports, there were 26 complaints of failed systems that were investigated in Barry County in 2013, and 11 of those 26 were failed systems.

"It's really for the protection of the seller and the buyer," Starchman said. "If the system fails inspection, it is up to the property owner and the buyer how they want to proceed, but the system will have to be working before the certificate is issued and the property can transfer."

Linda Johnson, realtor with American Dream Realty, said although the property transfer certificate proposal sounds good on paper, it's a logistical nightmare.

"I'm dead set against it because it seems unenforceable," she said. "They want the realtors or the title companies to police it, and we can't do that."

Johnson also said the proposed change would open up homeowners and potential buyers to conflicts of interest among septic system inspectors, many of whom also install the systems.

"It's a conflict of interest to me because the inspectors are also installers, and the systems always fail," she said. "There's nothing stopping a guy from installing it wrong so they can inspect it and then install it again."

Brock said each inspector must obtain a license through the state, which must be renewed every three years, and each inspector mush have 20 hours of continuing education.

Starchman said another challenge to potential homeowners is the size of property the system rests on.

"You can't put a new system where an old one has been," he said. "It has to be relocated. On some properties, there is not enough room. That means the buyer will have to install a different type of unit, which can run between $15,000 and $20,000."

Stone County is the only county in Missouri that has implemented the property transfer certificate program, and Todd Fickbohm, interim co-administrator for the Stone County Health Department, said the program did not come without some push back.

"We went through some apprehension when we implemented the program, but a lot of our biggest opponents back then are our biggest supporters now," he said.

Stone County began the program in June 2009, but suspended it shortly after to better-educate the community about the issue.

"We got a lot of calls from our stakeholders, so we put together a group of stakeholders and had meetings over the course of the year," Fickbohm said. "We also put together a presentation and went out into the community and had meetings and gave that presentation to people."

After those meetings, Fickbohm said the program was reimplemented in May 2010, and there have not been many issues since. He said the county has not even seen any conflict of interest issues between inspectors and installers.

"In order to get licensed through the state to do inspections, you kind of have to have a basic install license as a prerequisite, because you have to know how a system works to know if it's failing," he said. "We have not seen any situations that can be associated with conflicts of interest, and some installers do not work on systems they've inspected. But, that's their choice. I would advise anyone who suspects there is a conflict of interest to get multiple bids for replacing a system."

Fickbohm said the need to reign in failing septic systems is great, as OTH systems and man-made pond systems can lead to contamination of recreational water, drinking water or private wells.

"We did this to protect the public's health and protect the quality of life here in the Ozarks," he said.

The goal of the county health board is to clean up sites where these systems have failed and threatens the groundwater and recreational waters in Barry County. Contaminated water sources can carry a host of diseases, including the protozal infections amoebiasis, cryptosporidiosis, cyclosporiasis, giardiasis, and microsporidiosis; parasitic infections such as schistosomiasis, dracunculiasis, taeniasis and echinococcosis; and the more commonly known bacterial infections of botulism, campylobacteriosis, cholera, e. coli infection, dysentery, typhoid fever and more.

Starchman said in some cases it will be difficult to tell if a system is working properly.

"If the house or business has been empty for a while, the system may appear to be working correctly," Starchman said. "In some instances, we would have to take other measures to make sure the system has not failed."

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