tcr-081519-kalkaskapospreview

Roger Pirtle digs a hole to access a septic tank while performing a point-of-sale inspection on April 18 in rural Kalkaska County near Mancelona. The point-of-sale inspection includes both a home’s septic system and well before the sale of a property.

KALKASKA — Kalkaska County commissioners are expected to vote soon on two related questions regarding required point-of-sale inspections of septic systems and water wells.

First, commissioners are set to decide next week whether to opt out of the program adopted 11 years ago. Second, they are scheduled to weigh in on whether Manistee County can make changes to the same program.

At one point, Kalkaska County commissioners discussed the creation of an ad hoc advisory committee to explore any concerns with the regulation and then report back to the board, but never voted to establish one.

The board has wrestled with whether to drop the policy since last year. Large crowds have inundated the board during meetings when the program is discussed, with those in attendance largely in favor of the countywide policy.

They didn’t necessarily change commissioners’ opinions.

“I don’t see the value to the public,” said Kohn Fisher, board chairman.

“I want the townships to handle it. They know their communities,” said commissioner John West.

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

Fisher said he recently spoke with Kalkaska County’s township supervisors and said some wished to continue the program while others didn’t.

“It’s as split up and diversified as the people of Kalkaska County,” Fisher said.

Any changes Kalkaska County officials make to the policy must receive approval of the District No. 10 Health Board and each Board of Commissioners from the other 9 counties in the district — Crawford, Lake, Manistee, Mason, Mecosta, Missaukee, Newaygo, Oceana and Wexford. Manistee County is the only other to participate in the point-of-sale program, and changes made there must likewise also get approval from the health board and 9 other county boards.

Manistee County officials last month voted to make changes to the program there, including the elimination of a few exemptions and the extension from 2 to 3 years the window within which a property sale can happen after an inspection without another being required.

Jeff Dontz, chairman of Manistee County’s board, said commissioners there have not taken action on Kalkaska County’s request to withdraw from the program. A motion was made to allow that during July’s meeting, he said, but died for lack of support.

That means a second Manistee County commissioner did not support Kalkaska County’s withdrawal request, even enough to bring the question to a full board vote.

Only if Kalkaska County commissioners vote to withdraw from the program will commissioners in Manistee County consider it again, Dontz said.

“At that point, we would owe it to Kalkaska County to decide one way or another,” he said.

There is no guarantee what decision Manistee County officials would make, nor would there be with commissioners in any of the other 8 counties in the district health department.

Seth Phillips, of the Manistee Lake Association nonprofit in Kalkaska County, said he’s disappointed county commissioners seem inclined to vote against the desires of hundreds who’ve attended meetings in recent months to speak in favor of the point-of-sale inspection program. He has advocated for the program to continue.

Kalkaska County commissioners will meet on Wednesday next week.

Should Kalkaska County commissioners vote to opt out, Phillips said he will travel to Manistee County to “bang the drum” and encourage commissioners there not to allow Kalkaska County to withdraw.

Meanwhile, Phillips said perhaps a statewide regulation will be considered by the Michigan Legislature this year in partnership with the administration of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. It’s appeared on the legislative agenda.

“We’re the only state in the country that doesn’t have this and we’re a state more defined by water than perhaps anywhere else on the planet,” he said.

It’s about human health and environmental safeguards for everyone, Phillips said.

A statewide law would usurp any county policy, or lack thereof.

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