By Shelley Grieshop
Local rural housing development could be stifled, at least temporarily, when the new household sewage treatment law goes into effect Jan. 1, officials say.
The reason is simple: the new rules require more testing and fees, the hiring of specialists and larger, more detailed septic systems. Mercer County also will require at least two-acre home lots for the systems.
The cost of the new mound septic system could go from about $4,500 to as much as $15,000 when all expenses are figured in, says Mercer County Sanitarian Chris Miller.
"This puts much more of a burden on property owners looking to build," Miller says.
After months of review and input from health officials, the new state regulations were approved last week by the Public Health Council to help reduce water pollution from septic systems. Although it wasn't the Ohio Department of Health's intention to slow rural home development, the implementation of the rules could affect new home business for contractors, developers and lending institutions, Miller says. The new rules require larger septic systems, and many counties, such as Mercer County, soon will require new rural home lots be a minimum of two acres. Also added to the price tag is the cost to employ soil evaluators, system designers and installers who must be certified and approved by the health department.
And then there's the fees: an application permit with fee will be required for lot site review, an installation permit with fee for design review and an operation permit with fee upon system completion.
Because soils across the Grand Lake area vary in types, health officials are encouraging people to obtain a site and soil evaluation for all proposed rural home lots before buying.
"If the soil isn't good, you might have to use a condensed motorized system with perhaps some sort of discharge," which also would add to the cost, Miller says.
Michelle Kimmel, the county's director of environmental health, says a soil analysis can help determine what type of system would work best and where the most suitable place on the lot would be.
"Once you have a spot put aside for the system, you can decide where to put your house," Kimmel adds.
Getting expert advice up front on soil types, water tables and other factors, could save a lot of money down the road, she says.
"It's all aimed at preventing a problem before it's created," Kimmel says.
Miller and Kimmel believe the new regulations will have a positive effect on extending sanitary sewer service to heavily populated areas. It's also their hope that developers and/or contractors might build their own "mini" sewer systems for larger subdivisions -- using smaller versions of the systems used by municipalities.
The higher cost of the new systems and the possible high maintenance involved could make provided sanitary service more appealing to homeowners in clustered developments, Miller adds.
Bob Shinn of Shinn Brothers Construction in Celina agrees the new rules will likely slow rural housing development for a while, at least. But he doubts many subdivision developers, like himself, will build their own sewage systems.
"It would be way too expensive," says Shinn, who owns Wheatland Acres, a subdivision on the northwest edge of Celina that taps into the city's water and sewage lines.
Shinn says he currently doesn't put in a lot of sewage systems in rural areas but, due to the new regulations, may be doing more in the near future.
"I don't understand what it all means, but I do believe it will be a big change for a lot of people," Shinn says.
-- The new rule, Ohio Administrative Code 3701-29, can be viewed in its entirety at www.odh.ohio.gov/rules/pending.aspx.