Proposed New Septic Ordinance – For the Record

The Latest Episode in The Adventures of a Septic Ordinance
Current Events 

Sep 3, 2019. BCD.   COUNTY NEWS: …. septic fee discussion By Sarah Clifford  Fee increase requested for self-installed septics

Sep 3, 2019. Septic System Summit.  BCM Facebook post on key points.  Key points for me:

    • Panelists reinforced the importance of maintaining your system. Better maintenance equals a longer life of the septic system.
    • A failed and failing septic system can have an impact on the environment and health but any “spin” to create a perception that we have a high percentage of failures and health-related issues is not supported by the facts and evidence.
    • How long does a system last? The correct answer confirmed by two panelists is “indefinite.” The are many variables that factor into an estimate of useful life. These include type, design, age, water usage, maintenance, and soil types to name a few. Note that the “indefinite” conclusion is supported by the EPA and Presby systems. Indefinite defined as: “not definite, unclear; vague, lacking precise limits.
    • Scientific based studies applying valid statistical methods could be conducted in Brown County to develop an accurate estimate as to the useful life of systems. (See indications of a septic system failures below.)
    • Ernie Reed (Health Dept) reinforced that the “average” life expectancy was “estimated” at 25-30 years. Alice Quinn from the state department of health remarked that she expected her system to last longer than this.
    • Given a system can fail within one year, the upper range for the “average” could be in the 50-60 year range. Several people have told me that they have functioning systems that are within this age range.
    •  Indicators of a septic system failure? Can’t flush toilets an standing (smelly) water over the drain field. This water can pollute surface and groundwater. Streaking – the grass is greener over the septic field, is not necessarily a sign of failure if the drain tiles are within 16 inches of the surface.
    • High E-coli Levels in the Bean Blossom Watershed. Tests from the state indicate high e-coli levels. Tests for determining if E-coli is a result of animal (most likely) or human are not reliable at this time (per Alice Quinn, SDOH). IF one day it is determined that a certain percent is human-caused as a result of a failed septic system, the next step would be to determine the system or the number and location of systems that may be causing the contamination.
    • Background info – Septic System Summit

August 15, 2019Brown County Matters – Facebook Post – review of the ordinance.

July 30, 2019. BCD,  Proposed changes to county septic ordinance By Sara Clifford

July 17, 2019 Draft Septic Ordinance Presented to Health Board 7-16-19

Apr 2, 2019. Update regarding proposed changes: BCD,  Time-of-sale septic inspection no longer being discussed, by Sara Clifford.

  • The septic ordinance committee met last month to review the changes they’ve made over the past eight months. Their task has been to update the county’s 1997 septic ordinance — a job that has been attempted at least three times before, the last one culminating with a packed public meeting at which residents went line by line over the last draft.
  • Kennard said an inspector is allowed to go to someone’s door unannounced, and the owner is allowed to tell him to leave. If that happens, he’ll come back with a warrant.
  • Kennard said that in his experience, what is holding back most people from fixing their septic problems is a financial issue.
  • The septic ordinance subcommittee has not yet approved a final draft.

Nov  28, 2018. Brown County Matters – Difficulty selling a house because of fears of a proposed septic ordinance.

August 21, 2018.  Septic ordinance committee expands, adds members. By Sara Clifford – Brown County Democrat

Past Events – 2018

March 30, 2018  Packed audience addresses septic ordinance revision

March 27, 2018.  BCD, Letter: Limit proposed septic ordinance’s scope  By Tim Clark …”In summary, update the ordinance as needed to comply with existing state code only.  “THEN” …  Form a project team or contract with a consultant to study and address the larger and more complex issues. 

PROPOSED changes to the Septic Ordinance  – 2018 Version and past article in the Democrat on the topic to include effects on other aspects of development.

State of Indiana – Residential Onsite Sewage Systems: 410_IAC_6-8_3

Brown County:

Past Events – 2017

I attended several public meetings last spring held by the commissioners and Health Board to discuss the initial version of this ordinance.  In addition to the general public, attendees included septic system installers, realtors, members from the RDC, APC, and Regional Sewer Board (RSB).  Articles in the Democrat that discuss what was covered in these meetings is provided below.

They (Commissioners, Health Board/Dept) have yet to communicate any compelling need to justify exceeding the state standards. Perhaps this will be provided at the March 29 meeting.

The NEW changes to the septic ordinance that exceeds the state code include county inspection standards, certification of inspectors, penalties, and fines, etc.  Note a  septic inspection is part of the process of buying a home and banks also often require inspections.  These are private sector functions.   

One of the issues that was continuously raised was for the ordinance to clearly identify what was required by state code and what was not. It was often stated that a  certain section was exactly like the state code when in fact it was not.

Participants also wanted to know exactly the justification for the higher standards that were going to be imposed by the county.  Another suggestion was that Standing Operating Procedures (SOPs) should be developed to clearly identify in detail, how the new standards were going to be administered and enforced.  It was recently stated that SOPs will NOT  be developed/available until AFTER the proposed ordinance is passed by the commissioners.  In other words, you have to pass the ordinance before you know how it is going to be enforced. This can lead to an abuse of power and corruption.

It was also reinforced in the meetings that this ordinance should be part of a larger wastewater treatment PLAN for the County.  There has been no action on this recommendation.  Dave Redding, President of the RDC in 2017, did identify a concept for a countywide strategy that could be further developed in coordination with the Health Board, Area Plan Commission and Regional Sewer Board.  No further action was taken on this suggestion.

(A “plan” is a written account of the intended future course of action (scheme) aimed at achieving the specific goal (s) or objective (s) within a specific time-frame. It explains in detail what needs to be done, when, how, and by whom.)

The justification last spring for the higher standards was based on assumptions, anecdotal information, speculation, conjecture, and opinions.  The commissioners did follow through to support a review by county attorneys to help identify and mitigate any potential liability issues.  This does not mean that the higher standards cannot be challenged in court.

The process that was applied in the development of this (or any other) ordinance “can be significantly improved” to provide voters with the assurance that elected and appointed officials performed their due diligence in thinking through all of the ramifications of the change.

An example of a problem resolution and County Decision-Making Process.  (Note the definition of a “Fact” vs a non-fact.)

Impacts – Proposed Septic Ordinance Changes — Articles and Letters in the Democrat

  • APC to discuss shrinking home, lot size minimums – Brown County … Feb 20, 2018 – Those rules are in Brown County’s recently revised septic ordinance, which is coming up for a hearing next month before the Brown County Commissioners. The APC talked briefly about making a special zoning district for tiny homes, or designating a pilot neighborhood for them, such as Helmsburg.
  • How small is too small? – Brown County Democrat  Nov 28, 2017 – The county’s septic ordinance is in the process of being rewritten, but composting and incinerating toilets are not in the proposed changes. Ritzmann said another option for discussion is placing tiny homes in “planned unit developments,” or PUDs. That would allow them to be hooked into a shared septic …
  • State: ‘Audit’ was requested by local health department  May 16, 2017 – What the report said. News of the state report first surfaced in a March 14 work session of the Brown County Commissioners and Brown County Health Board when they were talking about revising the local septic ordinanceBrown County Commissioner Jerry Pittman asked for a copy of “all state audits of …
  • Septic law’s impact on home sales reviewed – Brown County Democrat  Apr 18, 2017 – At the work session between the Brown County Commissioners and Brown County Board of Health on April 5, “dealbreakers” were discussed — parts of the county septic ordinance that might shut down all efforts to pass it. The septic ordinance hasn’t been fully revised since 1997. An attempt in …
  • Health board: Septic law will help plug data holes – Brown County … Mar 29, 2017 – That’s the answer Brown County Board of Health member Linda Bauer had to questions about why the new draft Brown County septic ordinance includes a new set of procedures for properties that are being sold. Health department employees have strong suspicions that there are large numbers of failed …
  • Health board: Septic law changes intended to protect residents Mar 7, 2017 – The Brown County Board of Health has written a new draft of the county’s septic system law, which hasn’t been overhauled in 20 years — and it is still in the … Many of the changes to the septic ordinance mirror state law, which has changed in several ways since the 1997 local law was written, health board …
  • Comparison: Key changes in draft septic ordinance – Brown County … March 7, 2017 / Brown County Board of Health members said many of the points in the new septic ordinance they’ve been drafting are the same as the 1997 version — though they’re in a different … Several people at the meeting mentioned a $400 inspection fee, which was published in a previous story in the Brown County Democrat.
  • Draft septic ordinance to be passed to commissioners  Feb 14, 2017. The Brown County Commissioners are likely to review a new proposed septic ordinance at a special meeting sometime in March, said commissioner Diana Biddle. The meeting time and date had not been announced as of press time. Most homes outside the immediate areas of Nashville, Gnaw Bone and Helmsburg are on …
  • Letter: Clarifications on proposed new septic ordinance  Jan 17, 2017 – Thanks to The Democrat and reporter Ben Kibbey for the coverage of the recent health board meeting and the discussion of proposed new Brown County septic ordinance. As the new ordinance has yet to be publicly released, Mr. Kibbey was not able to review the actual document for his article. I would like …
  • Letter: Recent buyer supportive of new septic ordinance  March 14, 2017.  In regards to the upcoming vote on the septic inspection (March 8 paper). As a recent purchaser of a home in Brown County, we were within days of closing on one property. It had passed the home inspection by my inspection.
  • County weighs septic rule changes – Brown County Democrat Jan 11, 2017 – The Brown County Board of Health is in the final stages of approving a new septic ordinance, and it could change how people buy and sell houses that are on septic systems. … 3, board members reviewed changes to the ordinance but will not vote to approve those changes until their Monday,


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