More septic talk planned in Kalkaska

Roger Pirtle digs a hole to access a septic tank while performing a point of sale inspection in April in northern Kalkaska County near Mancelona. A point-of sale inspection includes a home’s septic system and water well before the sale of a property.

KALKASKA — Kalkaska County commissioners spent another three hours talking with community members about the countywide point-of-sale septic and water well inspection rule without taking action.

Nearly 50 people filled up a Kalkaska courtroom Wednesday to find out whether elected officials would repeal the ordinance that's been on the books for 11 years — similar to a four-hour gathering on May 17.

Commissioners continued to discuss the creation of an ad hoc advisory committee to further explore any concerns with the regulation and then report back to the board, but did not vote to establish one.

"I think we need the working group to determine what the next step should be," said commissioner Leigh Ngirarsaol.

Commissioner Craig Crambell said he doesn't think officials should opt out of the policy until something better is in place.

Those who have argued against the point-of-sale inspection regulation include real estate brokers and those seeking to sell their land, contending the policy creates a backlog of land transactions awaiting inspection reports, plus doesn’t achieve its intended goal because of abundant exemptions. Contrarily, environmental advocates argue the program provides consumer protections, safe drinking water assurances and environmental conservation.

Like the previous meeting, a series of people spoke one after another about the benefits of the inspection program and how they don't want the rule repealed, but rather amended to address problems. However, the first person to speak reminded commissioners that the program costs property sellers significant — and sometimes unexpected — amounts of cash.

Sherry Hoyt, of eastern Kalkaska County, said she is in the process of selling her home and as a result of a recent inspection, must now spend more money. She asked commissioners to consider that.

Inspections by health department-approved private contractors in Kalkaska County typically cost more than $700, plus any upgrades negotiated by buyers if issues are discovered when the report comes back.

Bob Kingon, of Antrim County's Milton Township, brought a copy of that municipality's point-of-sale inspection ordinance. He said a health department sanitarian performs the inspections there, where they cost about $300 plus the cost to pump the septic tank.

Unlike Kalkaska County, officials in Milton Township can require septic system improvements when various issues are discovered. In Kalkaska, health officials can only require upgrades when septic systems completely fail and sewage is found on the ground; the rest is simply informative.

Kingon said Kalkaska County's long-running policy inspired officials in Milton Township to craft their own rule.

Board Chairman Kohn Fisher said he wants to hear from all the townships' leaders before going forward. Supervisors or other representatives of the county's 12 townships will be invited to a coming meeting, either on June 17 or 24.

Many in attendance encouraged commissioners to establish an ad hoc committee to investigate the issue and generate a report for the board.

Jo Rahaim, who lives on Bear Lake, said she is impressed with the number of community members who show up to the meetings about these inspections. She said commissioners should take advantage of the expertise among their very own residents.

"This is civic action at your doorstep, so take advantage of it," Rahaim said.

Tom Reichard, environmental health director for District Health Department No. 10, clarified for commissioners how they can make changes to the existing point-of-sale inspection ordinance that apply solely to Kalkaska County and without first rescinding the current ordinance.

Kalkaska and Manistee counties opted into the point-of-sale inspection regulation in 2009. Manistee County officials currently seek to tighten up the restriction and remove some exemptions to the rule.

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