County leaders battle new rule

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 12, 2003

WINTON – Unless an effort by eastern North Carolina counties proves successful, those seeking to install a residential or commercial septic system will either pay a heftier price or be denied the privilege.

During a recent Hertford County Board of Commissioners meeting, Hertford-Gates Health Director Curtis Dickson informed the county’s elected leaders that changes in the regulations governing septic system installations may jeopardize the process, especially in the coastal counties.

&uot;We’ve operated under a system that, for over 20 years, has served us well,&uot; said Dickson. &uot;This process has allowed land development and economic development to go forward while at the same protecting public health.&uot;

He continued, &uot;However, these new regulations will change the way we do business here in Hertford County as well as all of eastern North Carolina. These regulations will make things tougher for land development and economic growth.&uot;

At the heart of the issue are the new regulations that change the way soil wetness is determined. While currently temporary in nature, Dickson said that research conducted by a soil scientist at NC State University is gaining momentum within environmental groups to sway state officials in making the new rule permanent.

Dickson turned the podium over to Ron McDougald, Environmental Specialist with the Hertford-Gates Health Department, to explain the changes. McDougald said that the old method – studying the &uot;long term chroma models (based on soil color indicators)&uot; was giving way to &uot;redoximorphic methods based upon 30-year rain cycles.&uot;

In layman’s terms, this new method rules out placing septic systems in shallow soils.

&uot;That’s what you basically find in the eastern counties,&uot; observed Dickson. &uot;The new regulations totally rule out placing a septic system in Craven soils and will affect our decision-making process in approving a system for Goldsboro soils.&uot;

Dickson explained that nearly 90 percent of the soils in Hertford County are of the Craven variety.

&uot;That means we’ll have to deny about 90 percent of septic tank permits,&uot; he noted. &uot;Craven does not make the most ideal soil to install a septic system, but in over 25 years we have not noted that many septic system failures or have we noted any contamination of the ground water.&uot;

For those looking to install a septic system in Goldsboro variety soils, Dickson said they could expect to pay a higher price. He said the new regulations require six inches of &uot;fill&uot; on a system installed in Goldsboro soils.

&uot;The normal price tag of installing a septic system averages around $2,500,&uot; stated Dickson. &uot;By adding fill to that price, you’re looking at least doubling that price.&uot;

When asked if anything could be done to convince state leaders that there is nothing wrong with the old permitting process, Dickson answered by saying, &uot;These new regulations are on a railroad train towards passage. We have to act now and lobby hard to stop this. If we don’t then this new rule will virtually end rural development.&uot;

Dickson called upon the Commissioners to support a resolution calling for the North Carolina Commission for Health Services to reject the new proposal, a measure they adopted at Monday’s meeting. Copies of that signed resolution will be forwarded to State Senator Robert Holloman, State Representative Howard Hunter, Governor Mike Easley, State Senator Marc Basnight, the Co-Speakers of the House of Representatives and the state’s Environmental Health Services.

&uot;The counties here in the east are coordinating efforts to show our support for the old regulations to remain in place,&uot; concluded Dickson. &uot;We are making each and every effort to make an impact on this major decision that will effect tens of thousands of people in eastern North Carolina.&uot;