Appeals can be won for septics
Permission is sometimes granted to allow alternative septic systems. One such system was installed earlier this year after a Suttons Bay couple twice won appeals following denial of their original request by the Benzie- Leelanau County Health Department.
Since the code was re-written to allow alternative systems 10 years ago, some 12 have been installed, according to health department sanitarian Chuck Grant. The code requires that home owners initially monitor systems quarterly to ensure that treated wastewater meets requirements. Upon favorable results, the homeowner is required to report less frequently.
Environmental health officials receive about six appeals to the code in Leelanau County a year. And odds are pretty good that appellants will prevail in their appeal.
“It’s a 50/50 chance or higher that it will go through,” Grant said. “The appeals board has a tendency of approving more than they deny.”
The appeals board is comprised of commissioners from Benzie and Leelanau counties, and three “at large” appointees.
Homes built near lakes and streams may be required to install holding tanks if soils are deemed incompatible with traditional septic systems. Holding tanks require pumping several times a year; the costs add up quickly.
Harry and Piper Goldson have installed an alternative system at their home on Nanagosa Trail as a result of a health department Board of Appeals decision. Peninsula Excavating installed the system.
According to health department records, the home on the site was built in 1976. It’s drain field worked properly until it was damaged by excavating equipment, after which the owners were forced to install holding tanks, county records show.
In 1992, the second owners of the home asked if the residence could go back to a standard septic system. They were told “no” by the governing health department at the time, the Tri-County Health Department.
The Goldsons purchased the home in 2000, and three years later requested that they be allowed to install an alternative system. They were also denied. In 2005 the couple relocated a driveway and installed drainage tile to deal with surface water runoff at the site.
In November 2011, the couple’s engineer, Erin Parker, applied on their behalf for a permit to allow a Quantics advanced wastewater treatment system with conditions. The Goldsons sought to remove the existing field down to undisturbed silt, make shallow cuts in the surface of the silt, place 24 inches of fill sand on the silt and install a disposal field on the imported sand fill with a minimum of 12 inches of earth cover, their application states.
After being denied, they appealed the decision — and won.
As spring approached, the Goldsons were informed by the Health Department that a phosphorus removal system would be required. According to the department’s code, alternative systems within 500 feet of a body of water must limit the amount of phosphorus in wastewater to 2 mg per liter.
In its report, health department staff members said “it was not the intent of the Board of Appeals (in November) to approve the exact design” of the alternative system.
As designed, the system would not meet department regulations, Grant said. The requirement brought project engineer Parker back to the Board of Appeals for a second time.
The appeals board agreed to allow up to 10 mg of phosphorus per liter. However, Grant didn’t think the phosphorous would pose a health hazard in this instance.
“The only way it will get to the lake is by going through compacted silt,” Grant said. “Then there’s the sand to work through … and organic matter. (The phosphorus) will probably not get to the surface water.”
Grant said he didn’t think the appeals ruling would serve as a precedent for future cases.
“It’s not supposed to be a precedent because of the misunderstanding over the setting for phosphorus,” he said.