St. Louis County sets public hearing on septic rulesMissing the state deadline isn’t expected to be an issue.
By: John Myers, Duluth News Tribune
The St. Louis County Board will hold a public hearing Feb. 25 to take comments on proposed changes to the county’s regulations on septic systems.
The board’s committee of the whole, meeting in Virginia today, advanced the public hearing on the new rules that were reviewed by the county Planning Commission last week.
The County Board would likely then vote on the new septic rules after the hearing to be held during its Feb. 25 meeting in Hibbing.
The county’s septic action will miss a state-imposed Feb. 4 deadline to adopt new rules. But county officials said todya they don’t expect that to be a problem.
“I think they understand that there were changes along the way that need to be addressed,” Ted Troolin, the county’s environmental services director, said. “They understand our timeline. From our discussions (with the state Pollution Control Agency), I don’t think it will be a major issue if we can get it done quickly.”
The new ordinance, ordered by the state Legislature, has been controversial, with St. Louis County officials working on the update since 2008, Troolin said.
The proposed new rules call for “less-restrictive compliance criteria” in some cases, broadening the use of holding tanks and change requirements for some homeowners when selling their property. The county says the new plans allow more flexibility to approve “locally designed septic-treatment systems.”
Another change allows systems that may not fit traditional specifications, such as mound size, but may be better-suited for wet environments, like much of St. Louis County’s lowlands.
The most-controversial change proposed by county staff has been a requirement for an escrow to be posted for every new real-estate sale until the county could confirm whether the septic system was working and compliant with state rules. Rules require that the septic system be tested at the time of sale, but buyers now have up to two years to make the upgrades that sometimes aren’t being made.
So far, county officials have been reluctant to crack down on offenders. County staff said the escrow, which could amount to more than $10,000, would ensure money was on hand to make the septic changes if needed. But realtors said that effectively could shut down winter home sales because it’s not possible to test septic systems in the winter.
Instead, the planning commission suggested adding the escrow requirement only for homes within 1,000 feet of a lake or 300 feet of a stream.
“We fully support the Planning Commission’s recommendation to scale back the escrow requirement. It’s a good compromise,” said Sarah Wisdorf, president of the Duluth Area Realtors Association.
The County Board could adopt the commission’s recommended changes, adopt the original staff language or rewrite the rules, Troolin said.
The new rules were ordered as the state wants to make sure residents aren’t flushing their toilets and fouling their own well water or polluting nearby streams and lakes. County commissioners want to keep rules from being so strict that rural residents can’t afford to comply.
Minnesota has more than 544,000 septic systems, and St. Louis County has the most of any county at 33,196, according to the Minnesota PCA. New septic systems can cost from $10,000 to $25,000, which impacts areas outside of cities with sewer systems.