Beginning July 1, many Vashon residents will begin being fined $25 per day for septic systems that may or may not be failing and polluting Puget Sound.
King County is 20 years behind the rest of the 12 counties surrounding Puget Sound in helping property owners repair or replace failing septic systems that are polluting the sound. Every other county has provided financial aid for property owners by utilizing funds available from federal, state and private sources. The EPA Sea Grant program used by 10 of the other 11 counties for septic system water pollution control provided more than $4.5 million dollars this year. King County did not apply or their application did not qualify. More than $21 million dollars have been available for cleanup of Puget Sound for more than 2 decades, but King County has never applied or did not qualify.
Financial aid to help property owners with failing septic systems is available through the following governmental sources:
Centennial Grant Program
Clean Water Act Section 319 Grant Program
Clean Water State Revolving Fund Loan Program
These funds must be accessed through competitive applications by the King County Environmental Health Department. Financial aid to help property owners with failing septic systems has been provided by some Puget Sound counties for twenty years while King County is currently threatening fines of $25 per day for property owners who have not repaired their septic systems by July 1, 2012.
Two hundred sixty three (263) Vashon-Maury Island property owners have been identified as owning waterfront property in Marine Recovery Areas (MRA) that tests of the water have indicated are polluted by failing or failed septic systems. All but thirty-six (36) of these property owners have complied with King County directives that they have their septic systems inspected and repaired if necessary. Many of the remaining properties are located in areas where normal septic systems are not feasible and any solution will be very difficult and expensive. Many of these homes were built in the early 1900s on narrow lots near the beach with steep banks or roads directly behind the house. Even the recommended system may be too large for the available space and costs $30,000.
The Vashon-Maury Community Council (VMICC) passed a motion in March 2012 requesting that King County take the necessary steps to get financial aid for property owners in need and provide a waiver until those funds are available.
Even though King County’s On-Site Septic Management Plan, approved by the Washington State Dept. of Health, calls for a system for providing financial aid prior to the end of 2009, the county has not provided any aid at all. When the financial aid described in the plan was pointed out to Health Department directors, they denied they were leally obligated to provide it.
King County continues its threat to levy fines, at the rate of $25 per day, beginning on July 1, 2012 while other counties assist their property owners by providing the financial aid to actually clean up Puget Sound. On June 18, 2012, VMICC passed a motion that requested that King County provide Gap Financial Aid for helping property owners.
Washington State RCW 70.118A.080 states that King County Department of Health has a contract with the Washington State Department of Health. The requirements specified in that contract include:
(a) The contract must require, at a minimum, that within a marine recovery area, the local health jurisdiction:
(b) Show progressive improvement in finding failing systems;
(c) Show progressive improvement in working with on-site sewage disposal system owners to make needed system repairs;
How does a $25 per day fine qualify as "progressive improvement"?
Without providing the financial aid that is available, and that only King County can apply for, King County appears to be in violation of this contract. The community has asked that King County provide financial aid. Property owners that know their on-site septic system is not in compliance and know that they can not afford to make necessary repairs or replacements can not be expected to jeopardize their property by submitting to tests that they know will fail. If financial aid is available, that roadblock is removed. King County needs to step up and provide that financial aid and provide a delay of fines while they get it.