TRAVERSE CITY — Septic system talks resurfaced at a Leelanau County commissioners' meeting and could spill into another special meeting.
Commissioners at a Tuesday executive board meeting voted 5-2 to recommend a special meeting in January to explore the county’s septic system issues further. Commissioners Melinda Lautner and Deb Rushton opposed the proposal that commissioners will consider approving at their meeting next Tuesday.
Commissioner Ty Wessell, who suggested the special meeting, said it would afford commissioners the opportunity to listen to input and collect information from septic system experts to use in constructing the framework for an ordinance regulating county septic systems.
“We need to keep all options open until we hear the testimony,” said Wessell, who fears the impacts aging and potentially failing systems could have on the county's waters. “But I feel strongly we need some form of ordinance.”
He began arguing months ago for commissioners to adopt such an ordinance. In July he unsuccessfully pushed for a committee to create an ordinance. Benzie-Leelanau District Health Department board members further recommended county officials adopt a county-wide ordinance that could increase inspections.
District health department officials would have to write any ordinance, according to a written opinion from county attorney Peter Cohl. The ordinance would require Leelanau County and Benzie County commissioners’ approval.
Wessell hopes officials can determine the “framework” for the ordinance and share it with health department officials to include in the ordinance language.
Tom Fountain, the health department’s environmental health director, could not immediately be reached for comment.
Fountain previously supported an ordinance that would require homeowners to conduct septic system inspections before placing the home on the market. Existing regulations already cover new construction projects, but fail to cover those systems installed before regulations existed, he previously said.
Lautner and Rushton did not immediately return calls requesting comment.
Lautner often challenged Wessell’s call for harder septic system regulations during the past several months. The blanket regulations might suit some areas of the county, while it might harm others, she said. Septic regulations should be adopted at a township level, she previously said.
Any decisions made at the special meeting would go to the full board of commissioners for approval. Commissioner Patricia Soutas-Little hopes a meeting in January would start a process that would conclude in May with an ordinance that everyone can agree on.
“That’s really the importance of having this January meeting; to flush out all of the issues from everybody’s perspectives,” she said. “It’s something we can’t take lightly.”