By John Stark
The Whatcom County Health Department appears to be backing off on more rigorous enforcement of state and county septic system inspection laws, but Regina Delahunt, department director, still wants the Whatcom County Council to approve a fee that all homeowners with septic systems will be required to pay.
The council will discuss the matter at 3 p.m. today (Tuesday, Sept. 25) during a committee session in chambers at the County Courthouse.
Her report notes that during a July 24 discussion, some council members indicated they saw no need for tougher enforcement of the law, despite the fact that compliance has been below 40 percent almost everywhere.
The county does enforce the law strictly in both the Lake Whatcom watershed and around Drayton Harbor. That’s because the lake is Bellingham’s drinking water, and Drayton Harbor shellfish growing has been disrupted by pollution from defective septic systems and other sources. In both those areas, homeowners who ignore the law get stern warning letters and eventual fines if they fail to get their systems inspected.
As a result, compliance with the law is now at 82 percent around Drayton Harb0r, and 95 percent around the lake, according to Delahunt’s report.
As some council members see it, a few leaky septic tanks elsewhere in the county are not causing enough problems to warrant a strict enforcement system.
But homeowners who ignore the inspection law are also avoiding payment of the county inspection fees that pay the costs of the county’s septic system oversight program.
So Delahunt is recommending abolishing the county fees on septic system inspections and pumping. Instead, she is asking the county to approve a $19 fee for all homes with septic systems–a fee that would be added to property tax bills.
“This will evenly distribute the cost of the program to all onsite septic system homewoners regardless of whether or not a homeowner chooses to comply with the inspection requirements,” Delahunt writes to the council. “The current fee structure places the burden on whose who comply, while those who do not comply also do not pay to support the program.”
The removal of the county’s inspection and pumping fees will mean less taxation for homeowners who get the inspections, she adds.