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Feb 07

Septic Systems vs. Sewers (about last night’s public hearing)

A Friday, February 7th, 2014 news story from the Martinsburg Journal newspaper:

by Erika Elaine Wells

CHARLESTON – A proposed bill became a matter of property rights versus public health at a meeting at the Capitol.

A public hearing was held Thursday in the House Chamber to discuss legislation to protect the property rights of residential homeowners who have private septic systems and wells.

Delegate Larry D. Kump, R-Berkeley, introduced a bill, H.B. 4007, to prohibit state public utilities from forcing owner-occupied residences to hook up to a public residential water or sewer system, unless a private system is deemed unsafe for human use or is a public safety hazard.

“There are two opposing sides,” Kump said. “Both issues are fairly plain. How to resolve them without causing further distress to private property owners, who feel like their rights are violated, is the question.”

A few citizens in attendance talked about topics including the financial impact on owners; failure of water systems; water quality issues; health problems; placing the ability to connect into code; and the rights of property owners, said Assistant Majority Whip Tiffany Lawrence, D-Jefferson, chairperson of the House Political Subdivisions Committee.

Kump said each person was given a few minutes to speak. Those who opposed the bill said banning a forced hook-up would impede on the expansion of sewer and water systems, and public water and sewer systems are safer than private wells and septic tanks. Those in favor of the bill said they did not want to discontinue using septic tanks and wells, which they invested in, that were cleaner than the public water systems.

Kump said he drafted the bill as a result of complaints from Eastern Panhandle citizens, but this is a statewide issue. Co-sponsors include Eastern Panhandle Delegates Michael Folk, Eric Householder and Larry Faircloth, all R-Berkeley.

“The water crisis we had in the Charleston area emphasized that there is value in having a diversification of our waste and water systems,” Kump said. “If we have all of our systems under one roof, and it goes bad, it causes a crisis.”

In Berkeley County, which has limited water mains, residents are not required to hook up to public water systems. Residents with property within 300 feet of a public sewer line are required to hook up. If the county expands a sewer line, residents are required to connect to the public system. Otherwise, residences incur a monthly fee, regardless of whether a private septic tank is in use.

Kump said public utilities services representatives have said if too many people opt out, residents who are connected to the public system will have billing increases.

If the bill becomes a law, it would not apply to residents who are currently connected to the system. If a resident is exempted under the new law, but their septic system or well become unsafe or stop functioning, the resident would not be eligible for exemption.

Lawrence conducted the meeting, which was attended by a representative sent by Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va, to observe the hearing, Kump said.

Lawrence said she will consult with committee members to decide if they will formally take up in the bill. The committee will review documents they received at the public hearing.

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