Clallam health panel mulls Dungeness Bay pollution
By Rob Ollikainen
Peninsula Daily News
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The six-member panel Tuesday discussed staff recommendations for the Dungeness/3 Crabs area wastewater alternatives feasibility study, which evaluated a “centralized wastewater treatment option.”
Board members did not vote on the recommendations.
Environmental health staff concluded that failing on-site sewage systems along 3 Crabs Road are polluting the bay with human fecal coliform.
Only 28 percent of the septic systems in the neighborhood are current on their inspections.
“There is a real problem,” said Dr. Tom Locke, public health officer for Clallam and Jefferson counties and acting health officer for Kitsap County.
“It’s a very sensitive area. When systems fail, they get into the food chain, and there’s a very real potential for human exposure.”
Opposition to system
Six people from the unincorporated community north of Sequim testified to their opposition to a centralized sewer at the start of the two-hour meeting.
“I’m concerned that if we do a central processing facility of some kind that I am going to be either assessed $20,000 or $30,000 or an equivalent amount in monthly payments,” David Hamilton said.
“And I don’t think that I’m part of the problem since my septic system works just fine.
“So therefore, I’m definitely in favor of what was presented as the preferred option, which is individual septics, and I hope the county would provide funds for a good enforcement.”
The enforcement component dominated much of the discussion, with Locke describing a “zero-enforcement capacity” in Clallam County.
“Enforcement of public health code is put at such a low priority in the scheme of things in the prosecutor’s office that no public health codes are ever enforced,” Locke said.
“This is not the norm in Washington state.
“The codes are enforced in other counties,” he added. “I have yet to find a county that has zero enforcement. That’s the status quo, and we’re trying to change that.”
Locke said statutory authority to enforce public health code already exists in state law.
“The bottom line is you cannot enforce public health codes unless you have access to the courts and you have prosecutorial support, and we’re not there yet,” Locke said.
“An effective solution to this problem will require a change in the status quo. From my perspective, the status quo is an intolerable situation.”
Health board member and County Commissioner Mike Chapman defended Clallam County Prosecuting Attorney Deb Kelly, who proposed a comprehensive abatement code three years ago that was rejected by the Board of County Commissioners.
“At the time, [the proposed codes] were difficult to support,” Chapman said.
“They put together an incredible proposal. Very detailed.”
At ‘breaking point’
Chapman said the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office is at a “breaking point” with its workload and that the county can’t afford to hire another deputy attorney.
Nonetheless, health board member Dr. Jeanette Stehr-Green said the status quo is “unacceptable.”
“I appreciate the workload and workforce issues,” Locke said.
“Those are legitimate issues. But I stand by my statement that I don’t know any other county that never enforces public health codes.”
Locke said the technology and knowledge exist to prevent human wastewater from contaminating marine waters.
“It requires that we get from 28 percent to a much higher number in terms of systems that are inspected, repaired if necessary and adequately maintained,” Locke said.
To pay for the enforcement of existing regulations for the operation and maintenance of on-site systems, environmental health staff recommended a uniform fee for septic system owners within the county’s marine recovery area.
Stehr-Green said a uniform fee “makes sense.”
But health board member and County Commissioner Jim McEntire requested further staff analysis on the fee, which would appear on annual tax statements.
“I’m not going to just sign up for a fee in the blind without seeing some kind of a program from which the fee is derived,” McEntire said.
“But I am interested in maintaining an improved marine water quality, for sure.”
McEntire added: “I will wait for the proposal to see whether or not the fee is necessary, and if so, what it is, and then we’ll proceed from that point.”
Dana Woodruff, senior research scientist with the Battelle Marine Sciences Laboratory in Sequim, presented research from an Environmental Protection Agency-funded study showing evidence of human fecal coliform in the Dungeness watershed and bay.
“I think the point here is that we are seeing evidence of human at all of these sites — not every time it was sampled, but frequently,” Woodruff said.
“We do have evidence of bacterial sources that are fairly widely distributed in the lower watershed. . . . There was direct evidence of human sources in Dungeness Bay, both in the water and in the sediment.”
Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5072, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Last modified: June 19. 2013 5:42PM