MOUNT VERNON — A press release from the Knox County Health Department states that starting Jan. 1, the health department will begin “to administer a new program for operation and maintenance of all Knox County households with their own septic systems.” The new rules will require all septic system owners to obtain a permit to operate their systems.

Local township trustees are already commenting that the new rules seem to be intent on creating a new layer of unnecessary state bureaucracy that will be expensive for homeowners with septic systems — especially if they are deemed in need of repairs or a new system all together.

The press release, issued Friday after county offices closed, said the new sewer program rules will potentially impact more than 18,000 Knox County households. The new sewage program is part of a statewide update of household sewage rules enacted by the Ohio Legislature in 2015, according to the release.

The new rules establish “modern standards for system construction, alteration and maintenance” when a septic system fails or breaks, or when a new system is installed.

“The new rules also mandate all homeowners to obtain a permit to operate their septic systems and puts in place a routine assessment and maintenance program to be completed for each system every 10 years,” the release also states.

The release goes on to state, however, “The new rules do not require that all systems must be upgraded. All existing systems are deemed approved under state law until they fail and cannot be repaired.”

County Environmental Health Director Nate Overholt was unavailable for comment. County Health Commissioner Julie Miller said Monday the new rules will require all septic system owners in Knox County to obtain permits to operate their systems. That cost, according to health department spokesperson Pam Palm, is $66. The health department will be sending out letters to septic owners, asking them to obtain their permit requiring them to fill out a document about their system.

“The thing right now is to get all of them (county septic systems) registered,” she said.

If a septic system were deemed by the county to need an “assessment” by a certified septic inspector, that is where costs would potentially increase, Palm added.

College Township Trustee Doug McLarnan said this was the first he had heard of the new mandatory permit program with possible inspections to follow if considered necessary. He called it a “boondoggle,” noting that something so unpopular with local government officials and the homeowners they represent is likely why word has gotten out slowly on the topic.

“I don’t know how they will be able to enforce this with such a small staff,” he said of the county health department, especially if septic system assessments become frequent, with 18,000 households to consider countywide.

McLarnan, who owns two septic systems on separate properties, said affordability will become an issue for those deemed to need serious septic alternations or a new system altogether. The state tried to introduce a new sewage regulation system about seven years ago, he said, and it took until 2015 for state lawmakers to pass it. Now it’s finally being implemented.

“These kind of rules, like this and building codes, are really unpopular,” McLarnan said. “It creates an additional level of bureaucracy, with fees that have to pay for the program.”

Butler Township Trustee Andy Collins agreed with McLarnan that an additional layer of bureaucracy is unnecessary, with permits one new layer to deal with followed by “a routine assessment and maintenance” program to be completed every 10 years. The cost of septic system repairs can be in the thousands of dollars, he said, while a new septic system entirely is about $10,000.
“It’s crap. It’s just another way to get more money out of people,” said Collins, who has his own septic system. He added that while he is not for septic systems that are in bad enough shape to “screw up” the environment, he also believes “If there’s no issue, leave it alone.”

The new operation and maintenance program was approved by the county board of health in September. In its press release, Overholt said the delay from 2015 to now regarding implementation “was to gather input from county stakeholders like septic installers and township officials, and to make sure as many people were informed and on board with the program (as possible) before we started implementing it.”

Palm, however, offered that counties like Union and Licking have already rolled out the state-mandated program and “got hammered for it” by the public. Knox County has been trying to roll out its program slowly to lessen its potential impact on homeowner costs, she emphasized.

“This is the state’s program. This is not something that has been made up,” she said.

Overholt said in the press release it will take time for the new program to be implemented, given the large number of Knox County households with septic systems.

“However, we are committed to bringing Knox County in line with the state rules and working with local residents to determine the status of their system and what is best to keep their systems in good working order,” he offered.

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Larry Di Giovanni: 740-397-5333 or larry@mountvernonnews.com and on Twitter, @mountvernonnews