Septic hearing turns hostile, then it’s postponed after crowd fills room

PORT TOWNSEND — The Jefferson County Board of Health directors faced a hostile crowd Thursday, as people jammed into the health department conference room to protest costs attached to proposed on-site septic systems regulations.

Changes could increase the cost of monitoring privately-owned septic systems from $50 per visit to $200, and would encourage homeowners to monitor their own septic systems.

Hearing complaints about tight quarters for the meeting and strong suggestions for a delay, the board voted to postpone the public hearing until an evening time at a larger location could be scheduled.

“This is no way to conduct a meeting,” county political watchdog and open government advocate Mike Belenski shouted as he stood before about 100 people, who were all on their feet before a seated board.

Belenski and county Public Health Director Jean Baldwin argued about the room’s capacity.

Baldwin called in fire department officials to determine the situation.

Many stood outside the room’s doorways in the health department’s lobby at the QFC shopping center off Sims Way and Sheridan Street.

Police Sgt. Troy Surber also was dispatched to watch the meeting.

In addition, county resident Norm MacLeod wrote in a letter to the board Thursday, “You are considering the adoption of a program that is going to have substantial financial impacts on homeowners throughout Jefferson County.

“Most of these homeowners have day jobs, and are thus unable to attend a public hearing that takes place during normal working hours on a weekday.”

Saying that she had been a Board of Health volunteer for nine years, board member Sheila Westerman said, “I have never seen this many people in the room.”

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