Empire may require septic inspections
When Dianne Navarro bought her house in Empire Village in 2007, she and her husband had no idea its septic field was already failing.
Four years later the couple paid $5,000 to replace the septic system.
But that’s not why she supports a point of sale (POS) septic ordinance that has been in the works in Empire Village for about two years.
“I don’t think you can be too careful about protection of our water,” Navarro said. “It’s our largest natural resource and I’d just as soon be proactive.”
Empire Village is a vote away from becoming the first municipality in Leelanau County to require septic tank inspections upon the sale of homes. The county Board of Commissioners has taken up the issue at least twice in recent years, but never mustered support to approve inspections on a county wide basis.
The proposed Empire ordinance would require the seller of any habitable building to have an inspection of the sewer system before the premises is sold or transferred to another owner. If the system does not conform to requirements of the Benzie-Leelanau District Health Department, the seller must bring it up to code within 150 days from the date the title is transferred.
The ordinance is designed to promote a quality environment by reducing contaminated runoff from failed or poorly maintained septic systems.
But not everyone thinks the new ordinance is needed, or will deliver its intended benefits..
“To me this is not the environmental panacea that it’s made out to be,” said Sue Carpenter, village president. “I believe that all this ordinance will do is add more regulation to an already overregulated village and more dollars in legal fees to enforce.”
Empire Village Council members were expected to vote on the ordinance at their regular meeting Tuesday, but learned that the Empire Planning Commission is required to hold a public hearing before the ordinance comes to the council for approval.
Carpenter said the ordinance uses no environmental data as its basis, and that there is no evidence of contaminated groundwater in the Empire area. The village’s drinking water, which comes from five wells located in deep aquifers, is tested four times a year.
“I believe this ordinance might mislead the public into thinking that the Village of Empire has a groundwater problem,” she said.
Trustee Karen Baja, who is also a member of the Empire Village Planning Commission, said she initiated the POS septic ordinance. She wants the village to take a proactive approach toward protecting the area’s groundwater and lakes.
She never thought the issue would be controversial.
“Many of the houses in this area are old and may have failing septic systems,” Baja said. “We thought this might be a small proactive step, instead of waiting until we got bad test results.”
She added that septic fields and wells are not routinely checked when a buyer orders an inspection of a home. It is an extra charge and up to the buyer to ask for it.
Carpenter said she thinks the village may lose home sales because of the ordinance.
“I believe the housing market is fragile enough and doesn’t need more regulation to discourage sales,” Carpenter said.
Trustee Linda Payment said a homeowner should be allowed to hire a certifi ed sanitarian to complete an inspection. As the ordinance is now written, only the Health Department can inspect a septic system and provide a written evaluation.
Carpenter agreed, saying that the Health Department could charge whatever it wants for inspections because of a lack of competition.
“Even though it’s not expensive now, it could be,” Carpenter said.
The Benzie-Leelanau Health Department charges $305 for the service, which is required in Benzie County through a county-wide ordinance. A new septic system costs about $5,000 to $10,000, Baja said.
Paul Skinner, chairman of the Empire Planning Commission, said homes in the village are often sold to people from larger areas who do not realize that homes in Empire have septic systems instead of municipal sewers.
“When you talk to them 90 percent of them aren’t even aware that we don’t have sewers,” Skinner said, so they don’t know they need to have the septic field inspected.
Empire also expands WiFi, OK’s public works project
The Empire Village Council met for about one and 1/2 hours at its regular meeting on Tuesday. In addition to a discussion of a point of sale septic ordinance the village is considering, the council awarded a bid to Elmer’s Construction for replacement of a water main and the repaving of about two blocks of Wilce Street from Lake Street to M-22.
The village will pay $99,998 for the job. The village has not done a major project in about four years and has been saving to do this one, said Sue Carpenter, village president.
In all, six bids were received, including a bid by CJ’s Excavating of Cadillac that was $210 lower than the Elmer’s bid. But village trustees felt that Elmer’s can do more of the project itself, rather than having to hire subcontractors.
The village has worked with Elmer’s previously and has a rapport with the company, Carpenter said. The company is also closer, being located in Grawn.
The council also approved a motion supporting an agreement with Jim Selby of Aspen Wireless to expand WiFi and provide increased coverage. The village began offering WiFi two years ago, but the hardware does not support the number of people who want to use it. There are many seasonal residents in Empire who are only there for a few days, a few weeks or a few months and they do not want to have Internet installed that they will have to pay for year round. With the village’s new WiFi plan they will be able to sign up for as long as they are visiting.