Weatherford Democrat

Local News

September 13, 2011

County commissioners lower septic standards

PARKER COUNTY — Parker County commissioners overruled the recommendation of County Health Department Director Kirk Fuqua Monday, voting 3-2 to adopt less stringent state standards for monitoring aerobic septic systems.

The changes eliminate the county’s requirement for annual maintenance contracts with professional providers, which perform inspections every four months. They also let the owners of aerobic systems opt out of mandatory training requirements if they choose to perform the inspections themselves.

Judge Mark Riley and commissioners John Roth and Dusty Renfro voted in favor of the change. Commissioners George Conley and Craig Peacock voted against it.

With Roth and Renfro, the issue boiled down to supporting the rights of property owners. Conley said the court should follow Fuqua’s recommendation. Peacock said he was in favor of requiring an annual inspection by a certified installer.

The issue came to light through Tracy McCracken, an aerobic system owner who never had a maintenance contract, according to Fuqua, and provided the court with no proof of training.

“After a number of notices, we filed a complaint for non-compliance in JP court,” he said.

McCracken thinks state and county standards should be the same. He told the court that property owners’ rights to maintain their aerobic systems should “not be disrespected” and said the systems were “simple to operate and maintain.”

“I wouldn’t have a problem with someone coming at random to check my system,” he said, “The problem I have is that [they think] I’m not intelligent enough to learn the material.”

In an interview later, Dee Scarbro, of Lone Star Aerobic, said the systems are complex.

“These are like treatment plants,” she said, “It’s like Mr. McCracken operating a plant like the City of Weatherford.”

She also said that personal liberties should not overshadow your neighbors’ rights.

“What Parker County did today sabotaged public safety and public health,” she said.

In response to questions from commissioners, Fuqua reported that 60 counties operate with more stringent regulations than the state.

He said that 7,500 aerobic systems are in place in Parker County. Later, he told the Democrat he was especially concerned about two or three large subdivisions with one-acre lots where all the residents own aerobic systems.

Currently the county requires those owners to hire a contractor licensed by the state, submitting to three inspections per year at a cost that varies between $100 and $250, Fuqua said.

Homeowners can also choose to do the maintenance themselves, providing they complete six hours of training through the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality or Texas Onsite Wastewater Association, he said.

Fuqua expressed concern that homeowners will not able to maintain their systems without the regulation.

“Most people don’t know how their aerobic units function,” he said.

When the state relaxed their restrictions four years ago — dropping the training and reporting requirements for homeowners, Parker County added tighter, proactive regulations, he said.  

“Any time you’re discharging wastewater on the ground’s surface it can affect others if the wind’s blowing,” he said. “It can spew pathogens into the air.”

Fuqua said moving to state standards could mean exposing members of the community to untreated wastewater for longer periods of time, since enforcement will be triggered only by complaints from neighbors.

“It might take a month [to respond to the complaint], then they have 30 days to bring it up to code, then we have to file the court case,” Fuqua said. “That’s three months of daily discharge.”

Prior to the vote, Judge Mark Riley said the change in regulations would match what the county has in place for standard septic systems.

“If we eliminate the requirement now,” he said. “someone would call and the matter would be handled the same way as for conventional systems. We give them 30 days to fix it, and then it winds up in court.”

“I think you have the right to do what you want on your property,” Precinct 3 Commissioner John Roth said, remarking that the consequences for violations — about $500 per day, according to Fuqua — remain the same.

Renfro expressed concerns about groundwater, but still voted in favor of changing the requirement.

“If you’ve got an aerobic system you’ve got distance requirements [from a well],” he said. “That tells me they affect groundwater. Groundwater belongs to everybody; maybe we should [require] a certificate instead of a contract.”

He said he was conflicted, but had to go with private property rights.

“I don’t believe the government should force us to do anything,” he said. “We should be the ones responsible, and even now, these were only being checked three times a year. It wasn’t working anyway.

“But I am concerned. I hope it doesn’t come back to bite us.”

Changing the county law will require further action, Fuqua said. A public hearing must be held and a second vote taken by commissioners.

Final approval will be through the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, he said.

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