Dori: Septic tank controversy is a classic example of David vs. Goliath

Jun 22, 2016, 1:54 PM | Updated: Jun 23, 2016, 10:55 am
king county, tax, septic...
King County is considering a tax on rural septic tanks. (pixabay)

There was only two days advance notice of the meeting. And the topic was sewage. So State. Rep Chad Magendaz only expected about 100 people to show up. Instead, the meeting was moved from a library to a high school gym to accommodate the more than 500 concerned rural residents who were ready to fight King County.

A listener named Mary sent a tip to KIRO Radio’s Dori Monson Show about a public meeting Tuesday evening in Maple Valley. She described as King County “trying to ram through new regulations for owners of septic systems in rural parts of the county.”

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The county is considering a new annual tax on septic systems that would also provide an easement onto private properties so that investigators can check septic systems. The new regulations were proposed in February. The Department of Health wants these regulations in place by July.

State. Rep Chad Magendaz, who took the role of ring leader for the rural residents opposing the county council, told Dori the county is deciding to attack rural property owners and is misguided.

“Ostensibly, they’re trying to reduce contamination of sewage in the Puget Sound area,” he said. “But the interesting thing about that is that during the last year of record we actually had 388 instances of our sewage treatments plants overflowing septic in the Puget Sound – a total of 1.1 billion gallons. Most of (these) septic systems are miles from Puget Sound so it seems like their efforts are misdirected.”

Magendaz noted that wells can be located 100 feet away from septic systems and “yet somehow they think miles away, the Puget Sound is being impacted by our septic systems. I don’t think so.”

He added that a concern is that this is only the start of the extra taxing. Residents also don’t like the idea of an inspector walking onto their properties, looking at septic systems and requiring them to spend $30,000-40,000 on a new one. Or, if they are within 300 feet of a sewer line, they could be required to spend up to $100,000 to hook up to the municipal system.

Dr. Ngozi Oleru, director of King County’s Environmental Health Services division, told Dori that the proposal is a fee, not a tax, that it would raise funding to institute an operational and maintenance program for onsite septic systems in the county.

“It is needed because we have a state mandate to protect water quality that protects both human health and environment, generally, and specifically in Puget Sound,” she said.

She said that King County’s data shows 200 waterways that already have fecal bacterial pollution and that most of the county’s waterways drain into Puget Sound. Some of that drainage comes from septic systems, though she acknowledged the county does not know how much.

“I don’t know that anyone can directly attribute any specifics,” she said. “There are several sources of potential contamination and septic systems happen to be one of them.

“Right now we don’t have a record of how well most systems in King County are operating,” she added. “We have a suite of services that will be delivered to homeowners. A lot of them haven’t been educated on how to properly maintain their septic system.”

Dori describes it as a classic example of David vs. Goliath: Ordinary people who just want to keep living their lives versus big government that wants to attach more taxes and fees.

“They’re going after the little guys it sounds like to me,” Dori said.

Magendaz says this is an example of why rural residents get so frustrated with the City of Seattle and King County.

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“I think a lot of the rural people are just so frustrated with Seattle throwing more and more fees and taxes their way,” he said. “Down in Olympia, we’re fending off income taxes and capital gains taxes and carbon taxes. They’re getting fees on the road for I-405, we’re now being charged for increased congestion. We’re really getting kind of frustrated with Seattle determining it needs all this more money.”

“They really just hit a nerve with this additional fee for a septic system that is completely independent of the county,” he added. “It’s on our own land. We’re not needing county services for this. We have a vested interest in maintaining them and making sure we have a good quality of life on our own property.”

Magendaz noted that rural representatives are the minority on the King County Council and might lose the argument.

“The one thing that seems to be missing from this argument is the data,” he said. “Maybe that’s what I look for with someone with an academic background – some connection between actual contamination we’re seeing in Puget Sound and the source, which may or may not be people’s home septic system.”

Dr. Oleru said no fee has been determined and that there was so much feedback taken in from the stakeholders Tuesday night that she didn’t get a chance to present the proposal.

“We’re very receptive,” she said. “That’s why we sat through the meeting and took notes and took their comments.”



Dori Monson on KIRO Newsradio 97.3 FM
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Dori: Septic tank controversy is a classic example of David vs. Goliath