The owners of a house at 406 Point Road will not be required to replace their existing Title 5 septic system with a new system that includes denitrification technology after the Marion Board of Health voted 2-1 in favor of granting variances sought in a public hearing held during the board’s May 26 meeting.
The board recently denied a similar petition, and Board of Health Chairperson Dot Brown sought to deny the May 26 application while members Dr. Ed Hoffer and Dr. John Howard voted to grant the variances requested.
Rick Charon of Charon Associates represented the owners, who sought variances to allow the addition of their house to be built 2 feet from an existing, 1,500-gallon septic tank and for that system to be more than 3 feet below the finish grade.
Brown explained her objection, noting that the addition was optional and that it directs the water across the property on an undesirable path. Citing conservation land on one side, she suggested that the board is actually requiring less in the way of overall financial investment than what is planned.
“They have really created a need for that variance by designing their house on top of their septic system. They didn’t have to do that, they have a big lot,” said Brown. “Instead of coming up with a variance, why don’t you give us a design that actually helps with the pollution.”
Brown further noted that, should the town install sewer on Point Road, the owners would be required to connect, whereas a denitrification system would allow them a 20-year respite.
The owners essentially sought to avoid the purchase of the town-prescribed septic system. Since instituting a regulation last year, the Town of Marion requires any new septic construction to include denitrification technology.
Charon argued on behalf of his clients that the existing system was deemed satisfactory only six years ago and being only five years old, would be a waste of value to require replacement.
Brown sought commentary from George Heufelder of the Barnstable County Health Department, who was on hand as a consultant to the board. Heufelder said, given the circumstances of the property, it would be hard to justify the variance from Title 5. He said the applicant is required to demonstrate that “whatever they’ve done will provide an equal degree of environmental protection.” He also stated that a denial of the application would not be denying the owners reasonable use of their property.
Hoffer asked if Charon would be willing to discuss with the homeowners the incremental cost of installing the I/A (denitrification) septic system prescribed by Marion’s regulation. Charon said he would but anticipated the owners would rather cut back on the house addition so as not to touch the septic system at all.
Hoffer suggested such a discussion would allow the board to table the matter rather than vote on it, but Brown believed that action would require a vote to deny the variances. While offering to add a condition of a new Title 5 inspection to the variance if granted, Charon said the owners were seeking a vote on the application.
Brown said that the number of variances sought on Title 5 systems has been a problem. Charon argued that nothing in the plans alters the functionality of the existing Title 5 system.
After asking further questions of Charon, Howard motioned to grant the requested variances, and Hoffer seconded. Brown cast the only nay vote, and the variances were granted.
In addition to his brief consultation on the public hearing, Heufelder summarized the scope of his regional work with the Barnstable County Department of Health and Environment.
Given Marion’s lack of a health agent at the present time, Heufelder’s work has been sought especially where it concerns denitrification technology.
He congratulated the town on moving forward with denitrification but stressed the importance of making sure the systems are easy to maintain, easy to monitor and installed correctly.
Barnstable County, he said, is handling close to 3,000 systems. As enforcement agents, they evaluate systems and ask town if they want the county to handle the enforcement of septic standards.
Heufelder summarized and explained a contract program whereby the Town of Marion, for instance, can farm out management of septic matters while maintaining its vetting authority.
The county would seek to improve inspection standards. “In order to be a maintenance person on a (denitrification) system, you have to be a Class 4 treatment-plant operator,” stated Heufelder.
Grant funding would pay for sample testing, and Heufelder said that by the end of a four-year contract, the program would pay for itself.
Zoom attendees including Hoffer were cut off at 5:03 pm, exactly one hour into the meeting; the same glitch occurred in a prior meeting. Board administrator Maureen Murphy told the board she had Zoom reserved until 6:30 pm and did not know the reason the service was cut off.
Hoffer was reconnected via speaker phone and told the board that the Wanderer was also cut off. The meeting resumed within two minutes and Zoom access was restored within five minutes.
Howard made a motion that the board sign a letter of support enacting a grant application with Barnstable County’s septic management service.
In giving the agent report, Lori Desmarais told the board that aerial rabies vaccination began distribution via helicopters on May 16 and will run through June 7. More information is on the town website, marionma.gov.
Mosquito control information went out to residents via email blast and is also on the website.
All tobacco retailers were found to be in compliance with the restriction against selling to people under age 21, according in recent inspections conducted by Joe Carvalho.
Beach signs were updated and were to be installed by Facilities Director Shaun Cormier. Howard conducted testing at the beaches.
In her COVID-19 update, Desmarais said as of May 26 Marion had 1,279 total cases including 35 active cases. The percent of positivity has increased to 9.51 percent. Total number of cases in April was 75, and May was also at a 75 count as of the 26th.
Sippican Health Center confirmed two cases as of May 25. Sippican Elementary School had one person in quarantine and two in isolation. One was quarantined and nine positive tests were in isolation at Old Rochester Regional Junior High School, and at the high school, there were none in quarantine but nine in isolation.
Desmarais said the state sent on new guidance on testing and daycare on May 25.
From May 16-20, Tabor Academy had 12 positive cases. The prep school’s final day of class is Friday, June 3.
The board used multiple platforms to advertise for a new health agent. Desmarais said the lone applicant has the food aspect of job-related experience but neither the housing nor septic-related experience. Desmarais said former health agent Dave Flaherty is helping Marion with Title 5 inspections and perk tests. Others are assisting in other aspects of food and home inspection.
Before the meeting ended, local developer Sherman Briggs said it was rude to cut off public comment after five minutes and reiterating a question as to why Marion has lost three health agents. Brown said the board follows the state’s Open Meeting Law and reiterated her prior comments that the health agent job is difficult to perform on a part-time basis.
Briggs sought to read former Health Agent Ana Wimmer’s letter of resignation into the public record. Brown told him that Town Counsel advise that not be done because it is a personal file. Brown sought a motion to adjourn the meeting, and Hoffer said Briggs still had the floor, that his five minutes had not expired. Brown explained that Town Counsel advised the board in writing that a reading of Wimmer’s letter would constitute a violation of the employee arrangement.
“If they open up that, then her entire personnel file including any reprimands she has is also open to the public, and that was not the way he wanted it to be done,” said Brown.
Howard asserted that Wimmer’s resignation letter is public information.
Brown insisted on closing the meeting and said she discussed the matter with the town’s attorneys who advised against reading the letter in a public meeting. She further stated that, as chairperson, she had the authority to close the meeting with or without the vote of the other two board members.
Briggs accused Brown of “hanging up” on him for a third time and argued that as a member of the public, he had the right to know which member of the board was “the problem.”
“I don’t think that any of us is the problem. I think we had a problem employee who is no longer with us and, you know, that’s the way it is,” said Brown, who reiterated her invitation for Briggs to use the Open Comment portion of the meeting to talk about anything besides personnel issues.
Briggs turned down the offer.
With that, Hoffer made a motion to adjourn the meeting.
The next meeting of the Marion Board of Health was not announced upon adjournment.
Marion Board of Health
By Mick Colageo