CEDAR — Centerville Township recently became the fourth township in Leelanau County to enact an ordinance requiring well and sewer inspections when a home is sold or transferred to a new owner.
Under the ordinance, which goes into effect Nov. 22, inspections must be completed at least 30 days before the sale or transfer and failing systems must be brought up to code or a plan to do so needs to be in place before the sale or transfer takes place.
Centerville Township Supervisor Jim Schwantes said the township started the process of adopting an ordinance more than a year ago. It was modeled after one passed in Empire Township last year, he said.
“I’m glad the board agreed that this was something we needed to do,” Schwantes said.
Inspections must be done by the Benzie-Leelanau Health Department, which charges costs $461 if the sewer was installed before 1990 and $290 if installed after 1990.
Schwantes said several residents told him they were supportive of the township pursuing the ordinance.
“Generally people want to see things done to protect water,” Schwantes said. “From the homeowner’s standpoint it’s not a terrible cost.”
The ordinance was passed by the township board Oct. 14 on a vote of 4-1, with Trustee Ron Schaub casting the “no” vote.
“I think it’s a responsibility of the county, not necessarily each township,” Schaub said. “I’m not against the fact that we probably need it, but I don’t think it’s the responsibility of each township to do it.”
Schaub cites costs to the homeowner and the township as his reasons for voting against the ordinance, saying it may cost the township an additional $1,200 to $1,300 per year to administer because of the extra record-keeping involved.
He supports a county-wide ordinance, though he’s not sure if failing systems are an issue yet.
“A lot of the sewer systems are getting older and this might be a way to head it off,” Schaub said.
But he said it seems like property owners are getting “nickel and dimed to death” with new regulations and millage increases.
“They’re all good things, but the fact is it just keeps costing us more and more,” Schaub said.
Schwantes said the ordinance also protects new homeowners who may not even know they have a septic system, he said.
“When people move up here from urban areas they flush,” Schwantes said. “That’s all they know. They don’t know that it’s going into their back yards.”
Michigan is the only state that does not have a sanitary code, with the public health code leaving it up to local health departments to develop and implement well and septic system codes.
The issue of a point-of-sale septic ordinance has been before the Leelanau County Board of Commissioners several times over the last 10 years or so, with the latest effort failing in 2019 along party lines by the Republican-led board.
The ordinance is governmental overreach, is not needed and would place an unnecessary financial burden on homeowners, trustees opposing it have said.
When systems fail groundwater can be contaminated with bacteria and disease-causing pathogens. Point-of-sale ordinances aim to catch those failing systems to prevent contaminated runoff and educate people on how to care for their systems.
In the absence of such an ordinance, villages and townships are moving to protect groundwater in a county that prizes clean water as one of its greatest assets.
Empire Village in 2013 was the first municipality to enact a point-of-sale sewer ordinance in the county. No private wells are allowed in the village, which has a public water system.
Glen Arbor Township followed with well and sewer inspection ordinances a year later, Cleveland Township in 2018 and Empire Township in 2019.
Benzie County has had an ordinance in place since 1990. Kalkaska County officials about a year ago attempted and failed to get rid of a point-of-sale ordinance that has been in place for about 12 years, saying it creates a backlog of property sales awaiting inspection reports.
Under the Centerville ordinance septic systems do not need to be brought up to the same standards that would apply to new systems, but must be working properly and have a minimal likelihood of failing. If either the well or septic system is found to be out of compliance, the seller must provide the health department and the buyer a contract for it to be brought into compliance within 150 days from the date the title is transferred.
Exemptions for inspections will be made if the system was installed and was up to code in the last 10 years or if it has passed inspection by the health department in the last three years. Community systems are also exempt, as they are already required to have regular inspections.
Enforcement of the ordinance is to be done by the township zoning administrator and an officer from the Leela- nau County Sheriff’s Department. A violation is a municipal civil infraction.