County Talks Septic Tanks

SNOW HILL – The County Commissioners informally discussed new rules requiring nutrient removal technology on new or replacement septic tanks this week.

Staff is working on a set of rules to require nutrient removal technology on septic tanks, Environmental Programs Director Bob Mitchell said, but where the rule would apply is up to the commissioners.

“They have to decide where they want the lines to go,” he said, which could be the entire county or just the critical area.

Nutrient removal septic tanks are only required when a critical area variance is granted.

While considering a routine request to send out bid requests for a state grant-funded septic tank replacement for a county citizen, the commissioners debated the need to mandate nutrient removal on replacement and new tanks. Septic tanks notoriously deposit large amounts of nitrogen and phosphorous into local waters.

“It’s a standard septic system,” said Jo Ellen Bynum, who handles housing rehabilitation grants for the county, of the tank in the bid specifications. A standard septic tank costs roughly $3,000, while a nutrient removal tank costs $7,000.

Commissioner Virgil Shockley said that if the septic tank is already being replaced, the county should look into requiring the nutrient removal technology.

Commissioner Louise Gulyas, who said she thought that replacement tanks in the county already had to have the technology, agreed that the change should be made.

“I’m taking back my motion if they don’t have to do that,” Gulyas said.

“These are only the bid specs,” County Administrator Gerry Mason reminded the commissioners that they had the option to delay their approval or okay sending out the bid requests with the stipulation that staff request bids for tanks with the nutrient removal capability.

The commissioners voted to ask for bids on both the standard tanks and the nutrient removal tanks.

Shockley suggested combining the grant funds Bynum planned to use for the replacement with state funding held by the environmental programs department to purchase the more expensive tank in this case.

“We can look at that. I can’t answer that off the top of my head,” Bynum said.

Gulyas said that the septic system requirements should be changed for the future.

“This is what we’re working for in the county. We may as well start now,” she said.