The Latest Update on a Proposed Septic Ordinance
Sep 1, 2020. BCD. Health department releases draft procedure manual By Sara Clifford
- The SOPs have come up in public debate about the septic ordinance since at least 2018, when an earlier draft of the ordinance was removed from consideration because of concerns from the public and elected officials.
- During a March 2018 meeting to discuss the draft ordinance, multiple speakers told the county commissioners that they wanted to know how the health department was going to enforce the ordinance before it was passed, like what happens to a person whose septic system is deemed to be failed. The current septic ordinance — which was passed in 1997 — does not list procedures.
- Passing the new ordinance before understanding the “how” behind it was “putting the cart before the horse,” objectors said about the version that was considered in 2018.
NEW Aug 25, 2020. Received the draft copy of the Policy and Procedures Manual with a dated of Feb 14, 2020. This manual was referenced in previous versions of the draft ordinance and references have been removed from the current draft.
NEW Aug 18, 2020. Opinion by the Public Access Counselor that the Health Department has to provide a copy of the Draft Policy and Procedures Manual.
Note that the 2020 version of the proposed septic ordinance is the 4th time major changes have been proposed. The first time was in 2013, the ordinance was challenged in court, and invalidated to failure to follow required processes. Thank you to the Democrat for the archived story.
- 2013 Septic Ordinance Brown_County_Democrat_Wed__May_27__2015_Page 1
- 2013 Septic Ordinance Brown_County_Democrat_Wed__May_27__2015_Page_2
The premise for an aggressive septic ordinance and a county-wide sewer district
- Brown County Democrat May 1, “2013”. Brown County Commissioner John Kennard called Bean Blossom an “environmental nightmare” due to many failed septic systems in the town located north of Nashville. The comment came during discussion of forming a countywide sewer district. Kennard said the purpose of the district would be to increase the chances of Bean Blossom acquiring a grant to pay for installation of a sewer system for the town. Commissioners voted 3-0 to pursue formation of the district, which could include a septic maintenance program.
- Since May 1, 2013, there has been no documented evidence that supports the claim of an “environmental nightmare” in Bean Blossom. The January 28, 2020 article in the Democrat – “Stream Sampling: Where’s the contamination coming from?” does not support the allegation of contamination caused by failed septic systems. To quote: “Is E. coli found in local waterways coming from humans or from animals? Short answer: We don’t know yet.”
- Regarding the proposed Bean Blossom Sewer Plant, the past two Brown County RSD Board presidents – Evan Werling and Judy Swift- Powdrill acknowledged that there was no documented evidence of failed septic systems that would validate a need for a new sewer plant. At their Feb 11, 2020 board meeting, Brown County Regional Sewer District (BCRSD) board members acknowledged that they did not know of any evidence of failed septic systems in their district. Board President Mike Leggins stated that Brownies Restaurant in Bean Blossom closed as a result of a failed system. Septic systems designed for commercial use are approved and inspected by the State.
- Note also that Cordry/Sweetwater Conservancy has a septic management program and water testing indicates no issues with E-Coli.
- Current Events and History – Brown County Regional Sewer District – For the Record.
The reasons for the lack of support form citizens is that the proposed ordinances included the following: (1) A focus on control, compliance, and fewer choices; (2) Changes that exceed State requirements without being specifically identified to include an analysis as to costs and benefits for each new requirement; (3) Too much power granted to Health Department employees to enforce compliance to include costly penalties, with no supporting standard operating procedures (SOPs) to explain the condition under which these mandates would be enforced. The new ordinance is also proposing a reimbursement to the county of legal costs if residents lose their respective complaints.
July 21, 2020. Brown County Board of Health — 5 p.m. virtually on Zoom. Board voted to recommend approval and to delete any reference to the Health Department’s Policy and Procedures Manual.
- July 22, 2020. Facebook Post at Brown County Matters on the meeting
- Proposed New Septic Ordinance (3-10-20)
- July 7, 2020. Health Department notified of my formal complaint regarding the department’s failure to provide me a copy of the Policy and Procedures Manual that was referenced in the draft proposed septic ordinance. They have 20 days to provide a response to the Public Access Counselor.
May 19. 2020. Health Board Meeting. The “tweaked” changes suggested by Commissioner Biddle were used in developing the current version of the “draft” – Proposed New Septic Ordinance (3-10-20). This “draft” was reviewed/approved by the President of the Health Board – Thomi Elmore and Health Department employee John Kennard. Clint Studabaker – member of the Brown Couty, Regional Sewer District Board (BCRSD) also provided input on the “tweaks.”
- Commissioners ignored (relatively) input provided by citizens via email to include the input provided at the Feb 19, 2020 Commissioner Meeting.
Mar 11, 2020. Democrat. COUNTY NEWS: ‘Tweaks’ suggested to septic ordinance
- “Because we did not make a motion to approve on first reading, it is still considered a draft. We recommended a few tweaks to (health board President) Thomi Elmore,” commissioner Diana Biddle said during the March 4 meeting.
Mar 3, 2020. Democrat. Public comments on proposed septic ordinance By Suzannah Couch, provided at the Feb 19, 2020, Commissioner meeting.
- Post of the article and comments at Brown County Matters.
- Proposed County Decision-Making Process. The proposed process that can be applied to assess the quality of the draft ordinance. This would require approximately 90 days consisting of 6 meetings to complete an assessment from a citizen/customer perspective.
Feb 25, 2020. Septic ordinance first reading reset for March By Staff Reports.
- The first reading was on the agenda for the Feb. 19 evening commissioners meeting, but no members of the Brown County Board of Health were present. The commissioners decided to postpone voting on the first reading until their evening meeting next month when health board members could be present to explain the rewrite.
Feb 19, 2020. Commissioner Meeting – Discussion – Proposed septic ordinance. Notes posted at Brown County Matters.
Feb 14, 2020. My written comments on the proposed ordinance submitted to the commissioners:
Feb 5, 2020, 9:00 AM Commissioner Meeting. The proposed new septic ordinance was provided to the commissioners. The first reading is Feb 19, 2020, Salmon Room, County Office Building, 6:00 P.M. Written comments can be provided via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Feb 11, 2019. BCD. Comments accepted on septic ordinance By By Staff Reports.
- “Next, it must go before the county commissioners for a first reading and two public hearings.”
Sep 3, 2019. BCD. COUNTY NEWS: …. septic fee discussion By Sara 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, 2019. Brown County Matters – Facebook Post – review of the ordinance.
July 30, 2019. BCD, Proposed changes to county septic ordinance By Sara Clifford
- This draft, the 1997 rules and the state rules for septic systems are posted at browncountyhealthdept.org/page-7/page-11.
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
- Septic-Ordinance-97-875 (Currently in effect since 1997)
- Proposed Septic-Ordinance-11-21-17
Past Events – 2017
I attended several public meetings last spring (2017) 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
- Septic law going back before commissioners, March
- Letter: Revised septic ordinance still contains concerns March 13, 2018. In this letter, I will address some of my concerns with Section 703 of the proposed septic ordinance.
- New Septic Ordinance proposed by Brown County Commissioners Mar. 6, 2018. PUBLIC MEETING NOTICE The Brown County Commissioners will hold a public hearing on a newly proposed Septic Ordinance to amend Ordinance 97-875
- 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 ordinance. Brown 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,