Cook County is in the process of drafting a new septic treatment ordinance. The state of Minnesota is requiring counties to adopt ordinances based on new rules issued by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.
On Wednesday, Nov. 18, the Cook County Planning Commission conducted its first public hearing on the ordinance. More than 50 people attended the nearly two hour session.
Planning Commission chair Sam Parker gave audience members a warm welcome. “I’m glad to see so many people come here tonight...the whole purpose of a public hearing is to get as many people as possible involved, and assisting the commissioners to come up with the correct language for the ordinance. And so we’re going to listen very hard and pay very close attention to everything you say.”
Planning Director Tim Nelson talked about the proposed ordinance and the public comments received since its publication. Three main issues have emerged; a requirement to pump tanks every three years; a point of sale inspection and upgrade provision; and unclear language regarding the use of privies and other alternative treatment systems.
Nelson said the provision requiring septic tanks be pumped every three years had generated the most feedback. He said most people felt it was unnecessary and that pumping should be determined on a case by case basis. “The bulk of the comments,” said Nelson, “have been centered around the fact that shouldn’t we actually treat uses, and water uses, and structures, uniquely as they are used, as opposed to a once size fits all?”
Nelson also addressed concerns regarding the use of alternative treatment systems. “We’re all drawn to Cook County for a variety of reasons. And we all know how varied the terrain is. And how varied living conditions are. People choose to live with hand-carried water versus pumped water and it really provides a tremendous challenge for the county to kind of equitably go through and strike that balance between making sure that we’re not going too far in regulation but making as sure as possible that the resources are being protected,” he said. “The intent of the committee, the intent of the commissioners has been, and the intent of the department has been to continue to allow these types of treatment systems.”
The hearing provided opportunity for public input, and several people addressed the planning commission, including Bill Haas. “The first thing is I will agree, I think good sewer protection, groundwater, and septic systems. It’s all important. What bothered me from the very beginning was compliance and enforcement. And I just read the proposed ordinance, and there are words in there such as prosecution, misdemeanors, ah, it seems like it’s drifting into a criminal violation instead of a civil violation if you’re not in compliance…..and I think those type of issues need to be looked at carefully because, I don’t want to use the term, but you can have the septic Nazis show up on your property and suddenly you’re in court.”
Dewey Pihlman said he was glad he’d come to the meeting. “Tim, you really answered most of the questions that I had. You did a good job with that. And from all of you, I hear not only concern about our water and environment, but I also believe that you are willing to help the Cook County residents… and I’m reasonably assured a lot of this stuff is gonna get worked out. Thank you very much.”
County staff will now revise the draft ordinance based on public comments and input from the planning commission. The issue will be revisited at another public hearing in January of 2010.