BOURNE – Health officials are preparing for a possible upgrade to the state’s Title 5 law, which governs septic systems, next January.
The change would prompt a property-by-property examination of septic systems in impaired watersheds such as the Squeteague/Megansett in Cataumet and Phinneys Harbor in Monument Beach, where water quality must be improved to state and federal standards.
Health Agent Terri Guarino said her office can perform systematic septic inspections in critical areas as long as it is fully staffed. Board of Health Chairman Stanley Andrews said he expects a concentrated septic effort and a defining time for the health service.
Andrews said a new and follow-up Title 5 law remains a definite possibility by the end of the year, if only because of the Conservation Law Foundation’s lawsuit against the state Department of Environmental Protection, Barnstable and Mashpee.
The Health Service expects the new Title 5 to increase the workload
Andrews said he expects major elements in a new law that will require attention, structure and organization as property owners realize what they will face.
“We’ll have to see,” Andrews said on June 22 during a call on Title 5. “Laws are being written and not passed or changed from what was originally proposed, that’s what happens. But this is a separate possibility and will include a (septic system) review north of the canal as well; at Buttermilk Bay, but probably not at Sagamore Beach.
Andrews and Guarino said the new Title 5 highlights of the law will help cities with adequate plans to combat impacts in critical nitrogen-sensitive watersheds and correct polluting problems such as old and inadequate septic systems, as well as cesspools that are officially declared “failures”.
Some waterfront property owners in recent years have voluntarily installed new improved septic treatment systems, and others have systems that accommodate so-called system “add-ons,” Andrews said.
However, Guarino cautioned that some properties using functioning septic systems that were installed in the early 1980s and are working adequately today cannot absorb the so-called “add-ons.”
Upgrading to Title 5 may mean additional costs
The costs associated with any widespread need for new septic facilities would be high, but there would likely be grants available “for people in need” and an exemption process would be in place for some properties, Andrews said.
The board of health is scheduled to meet with selectmen/sewer commissioners to discuss the next step in combating the effects of nitrogen and to look at progress on the septic system design as well as the financial aspects of upgrading the system, Andrews said.
Speaker-elect Peter Meyer on June 23 acknowledged Andrews’ concerns. Beyond understanding new septic technologies and evaluating shoreline improvement, he said “it’s going to be interesting” in terms of the community adopting a new law “and providing funding to help people.”
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Meanwhile, Boerne’s Wastewater Advisory Committee reviewed watershed violations documented by Environmental Partners, the city’s wastewater consultant. Members assessed community acceptance factors for the final septic change.
Members evaluated state-of-the-art septic system design that could be suitable for geographically extensive affected watersheds based on property conditions, location, density, distance from saltwater and lakes, environmental needs and costs, and political feasibility and acceptance from the community for new septic performance.
Such factors come into play when considering a property’s need for expensive innovative alternative (IA) septic systems, the less expensive alternative systems and cluster systems that may be suitable for new or smaller subdivisions or groups of up to six houses.