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County will re-adopt old septic system rules in wake of state uncertainty

Hubbard County will revert to its old septic system ordinance after a public hearing next month. That will give builders more certainty in bidding septic jobs for the spring and summer seasons.

Hubbard County will flush its new septic system ordinance and return to its old one.

Uncertainty as to what the state would do to the rules, and what affect it would have on the local building trades prompted the Hubbard County Board of Commissioners to suspend the Feb. 4 implementation of the ordinance. The board will set another public hearing.

When it's all said and done, County Ordinance No. 38 will be kaput.

"We acted in good faith based on the promises of the state" that all county ordinances governing septic systems should be enacted by the Feb. 4 deadline, said Environmental Services Officer Eric Buitenwerf.

But the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency then decided it would reopen the public comment period statewide and tinker further on its own guidelines for installation of septic systems, possibly delaying the process a year, maybe two.

"It's just turmoil," said building contractor Ron Girtz. "I was designing (septic systems) up until Feb. 4 and just quit. You can't bid a job if you don't know the rules."

He praised Buitenwerf for keeping plumbing contractors up to speed on the constantly shifting landscape that has become the MPCA's attempt to make sweeping changes to the Subsurface Sewage Treatment System laws.

And Girtz praised the board for taking the action it did Wednesday.

"For homeowners, this was a smart move," he said. With the old ordinance in place "we know where that is. It gives people a basis to budget for a system."

Right now, he said, with the uncertainty in how the state will treat the new rules, a homeowner could spend anywhere from $6,000 to $15,000 to build a new septic system.

That difference in savings will quickly mount up with each home built or remodeled, but also has the potential to garner ill will if homeowners are forced to install expensive pressurized systems they might not need in the county's sandy soil.

Buitenwerf outlined three options for the county to pursue, but recommended a return to the old ordinance as the most desirable.

However, the state had threatened to withhold funding to counties that didn't comply by the Feb. 4 deadline.

Commissioners asked Buitenwerf what the state might do to Hubbard County for readopting its old ordinance.

"The potential licking is that they withhold the septic money they have yet to give us," he said, adding it was in the neighborhood of $10,000.

"It might be worth the $10,000 just to tick them off," said commissioner Don Carlson.

Girtz was on board with the vote.

"We can't procrastinate this to June," he said of the harm it would cause to the building season. "There's gotta be some sort of momentum behind it. It's good to see these people not rolling over," he said of the board.

Hubbard County spent months formulating its new ordinances and formed a committee made up of plumbing contractors and builders to assist county officials in drawing up the new rules.

"We had a really great ordinance," board chair Lyle Robinson said of the old rules. "It was the best in the state."

The county's septic system ordinances have always been more stringent than the state requirements to prevent harm to the regions lakes.

The tentative date for the public hearing is April 7 at 12:30 p.m.

Sarah Smith

Sarah Smith is the outdoors editor. She covers courts, business and breaking news in addition to outdoors events.

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