By Rob Ollikainen
Peninsula Daily News
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Staying the course was one of four alternatives being considered in a feasibility study for wastewater management in an unincorporated area where failing septic systems were said to be polluting Dungeness Bay with fecal coliform and nitrogen.
Damon McAlister, a senior engineer with Parametrix, and county Environmental Health Director Andy Brastad presented the final study to the Clallam County commissioners Tuesday.
“The decision had been made that we wanted to stick with the course of the on-site systems, the program that the county currently has, but to look at ways to strengthen it a little bit more so that the county can better administer that program,” McAlister said.
Clallam County received a grant from the state Department of Ecology last year to come up with options to address human pollution in Dungeness Bay.
The county and Parametrix considered a cluster of four large on-site septic systems for the 313-acre study area north of Sequim.
“The third option was putting in a more robust, centralized collection, treatment and disposal system,” McAlister said.
“And the fourth one was looking at a centralized piping system and then sending it off to Sequim, a similar model of what the county is looking at as an option for the Carlsborg area.”
Public feedback from a series of meetings and workshops helped shaped the final recommendation.
Property owners expressed concerns over the cost of replacing existing septic systems with new infrastructure, which would have cost as much as $25 million.
Cost a big issue
“Cost was a major issue,” McAlister said. “Environmental impacts were another one.”
He added: “This area had very poor soils to begin with for drain fields. It also had a high groundwater table.”
Area residents testified against a centralized sewer system at a Clallam County Board of Health meeting June 18, many of whom said they were not contributing to the pollution because their existing septic systems work just fine.
Others urged the county to enforce its public health codes.
In that same meeting, Public Health Officer Dr. Tom Locke said Clallam County lacked the prosecutorial capacity to enforce public health codes despite the fact that only 28 percent of the septic systems in the Dungeness/3 Crabs area were current on their inspections.
“The Board of Health has the duty to enforce state and local public health regulations, including those that deal with wastewater disposal,” Locke said in a Thursday announcement from the county Health and Human Services' Environmental Health Section about the completed study.
“This is one of the most fundamental public health responsibilities there is: preventing contamination of food, drinking water and recreational waters with infectious human waste.”
According to an executive summary of the feasibility study, strategies to improve the current program include “increasing public education and awareness, conducting studies and assessments, strengthening enforcement and regulatory compliance within the study area, and providing stable funding for these activities.”
The selected option puts the onus on homeowners to comply with state sewage codes by having their septic systems inspected.
It also puts a burden on the county to enforce on-site sewage codes, county health officials said.
“This is really kind of getting the ball rolling for the county with this feasibility study,” McAlister said.
The feasibility study and related documents are available at www.tinyurl.com/brwwrjq.
Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5072, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.