Sewer vs. Septic Not So Simple

            While the Town of Marion would much rather welcome another rate payer into a town sewer system that performs more efficiently than even the latest denitrification septic system, the Board of Health vetted a complicated septic upgrade during its May 26 meeting.

            In a public hearing for two variances at 689 Point Road, applicants George and Lynn Whitney were represented by engineer Dave Davignon of Schneider, Davignon, & Leone, Inc.

            Planning a “FAST” denitrification system, Davignon asked the board for a 2-foot groundwater separation so he could utilize the allowance given by the state Department of Environmental Protection and proposed to pressure-dose the leaching field and thereby eliminate what he called “an obscene mound in the front yard.”

            The other variance sought relief from Marion’s design flow requirements of 510 gallons on the basis that the pressure dose system will disperse the water throughout the entire 42-foot by 20-foot leaching field.

            Davignon displayed the plan, including the difference between new and old regulations, the latter of which he summarized as “bigger is better.” If denied the variances, Davignon also displayed how an alternate design would make the leaching field even smaller than what is presently allowed. He furthermore asserted that the board’s approval would bring about a better outcome for the environment.

            “The key for us is getting the 2-foot groundwater separation field. It’s the best system for everybody,” said Davignon, adding that the two alternatives would be smaller and create a pronounced lump in the yard. The applicant had developed a sewer-tie-in plan, but Davignon said associated costs to overcome obstacles and an engineering study were double and therefore not feasible.

            Before voting her approval with the condition of a busier testing schedule at the outset, BOH member Dot Brown scrutinized the plan.

            “Our goal now at the Board of Health is not to grant variances. We have rules, and if they don’t work, we should change them.” she said. “I need a new design, I need a design that uses that original IA system that you’re proposing, but also meets the flow requirement for the fourth bedroom that’s being added…. And, yes, it really is a new system because it’s got a fourth bedroom, and that requires more flow.

            “I get why you can have the 2 feet (of groundwater separation) because of that specific IA system, but … none of those individual designs do both of those things.”

            Davignon said he has the ability, should the applicant be granted the 2-foot, groundwater separation variance, to revise the plan to include a larger stone size and thereby increase the flow to meet requirements.

            Brown reasserted her opinion that a $30,000 investment in tying into town sewer is ultimately preferable to a septic system of the same basic price, but Davignon said town sewer lacks enough incentive considering the age of the current private line and the hard line taken by the town and the owner of the line as to the costs.

            “Nearly $14,000 just for permission to tie into a line is over the top,” said Davignon, who added that a study needs to be completed before the town can determine that permission to tie in is feasible. “We were going nowhere with the sewer connection.” Davignon said the applicant worked toward that end for several months and even submitted a plan.

            “When you match up costs, I have to say, Dot, the maintenance for this system on a yearly basis is a lot less than what the charges will be … for the use of (town) sewer…. There’s no win-win here until the town starts to bring down the costs to give people incentive to tie in.”

            Brown objected to Davignon’s argument on the basis that the applicant’s preferred costs are based on obtaining a variance around existing regulations. Davignon stated that the applicant’s request is based on long-existent DEP regulations.

            “The DEP isn’t worried about protecting saltwater the way we are either,” said Brown. “Those rules are not just the ones we’re looking at; we’re looking at Marion’s rules, and the argument that DEP lets it happen is not an important argument.”

            Brown said that the proposed system lacks a fail-safe. “I have a whole lot of questions,” she said, restating the desire to see the applicant’s “real plan” before voting on a variance.

            Health Agent Anna Wimmer suggested that the standard conditions allow a 50-percent reduction in flow with the 2-foot variance for depth to groundwater. The flow being requested, according to Wimmer, is still above the 50-percent reduction outlined in Title 5 by approximately 200 gallons per day. The technology, Wimmer said, is able to process more sewerage. Therefore, she suggested, it should not be necessary to go through the application process again.

            Davignon said the leaching field would be extended but that the design remains the same. Brown disagreed.

            Chair Ed Hoffer called the discussion “a little nitpicky,” called the system “well vetted,” and suggested that, in granting a variance, the BOH can make the proposal meet the 510-gallon flow requirement.

            The BOH ultimately voted unanimously to approve the variance to 2 feet of groundwater separation, an expanded leaching field to meet the 510 gallon-per-day flow requirement and conditioned the construction with testing on a quarterly basis for a year, then every six months, then annually as regularly prescribed.

            Brown asked that the Water & Sewer Commissioners be in the loop for such applications.

            In her Health Agent Report, Wimmer told the BOH that the new owner of property at 284 and 286 Converse Road would like to move in, and the cesspool on the property has been inspected by a registered sanitarian.

            The owner has a contract to construct a compliant septic system. The address is in the black zone sewer-wise, according to Wimmer, which means the sewer line that runs along Route 6 is on a higher elevation and the property’s tie-in would require a pump. Sewer was considered not to be feasible, and the application was approved with the condition of a weekly inspection.

            In her Public Health Nurse report, Lori Desmarais stated that, as of May 26, Marion had 423 total COVID-19 cases, including four in May, with one active. In the schools, Sippican had no one in quarantine or isolation. The elementary school has seen 39 total cases. Old Rochester Regional High School had two in quarantine but no one in isolation as of May 26, and 108 cases altogether. With 40 confirmed cases since the beginning of the pandemic, ORR Junior High had two people in quarantine as of May 26, and one in isolation.

            Tabor Academy had no one in quarantine or isolation and continues surveillance testing. Sippican Healthcare Center had gone 14 days without any positive tests. There were no positive cases, and 111 residents and/or staff have recovered while 130 remained negative.

            Routine sampling for the beaches will begin on June 14 and go through September 6. The two beaches opening prior to June 14 require testing within five days of opening.

            The BOH may consider reorganizing in the fall, pending the continued success of the state’s reopening. The next meeting of the Marion Board of Health was not scheduled upon adjournment.

Marion Board of Health

By Mick Colageo

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