Septic woes hit county facility

The Washington County Public Works Department was given permission to seek contracts for emergency design and repair of the failed septic system at the department’s North Shop in Stillwater Township by the Board of Commissioners Tuesday.

Approval of the emergency resolution comes nearly two weeks after the North Myeron Road facility’s septic system stopped functioning Aug. 15.

Public Works Director Don Theisen said contractors were called last week to determine the problem, leading to Tuesday’s request before commissioners.

The resolution allows WPW to use a streamlined contracting process that does not require advertised bids to make emergency repairs if the cost is under $100,000, Theisen said.

“If the repair is less than $100,000, the state allows us to get multiple quotes,” he said.

However, Theisen said WPW officials do not know the cost of repairing the septic system.

“I don’t know if repairs will cost over $100,000,” he said.

The board and county administrators will be apprised of repair costs, Theisen added.
“We will come back to the board and we will tell you this is what it will take (for repairs),” he said.

Any repair plans will consider both short- and long-term effects on North Shop utilities, including water supply and waste, storm water and wash water treatment systems, Theisen said.

Theisen said the septic system failure was discovered when water was seen on top of the drain field.

“We believe the drain field has reached the end of its life,” he said. “It’s going where it’s supposed to go. It’s just backed up.”

Theisen said the North Shop septic drain field is in the northwest corner of the 54-acre site and is served by a quarter-mile long system of perforated pipes that drain liquid waste into the field.

“The existing drain field is not large enough,” he said.

County Department of Public Health and Environment officials inspected the drain field and found no significant environmental impact, according to Lowell Johnson, DPHE director, Because the septic system is not working, waste is not collecting outside the system, according to a county news release.

North Shop staff and visitors are using portable toilets until the septic system is repaired, Theisen said.

“We’ve got Port-a-Potties on trailers out there right now,” he said.

The problem WPW staff faces is determining the exact issue with the septic system, and finding a solution in concert with looking at the facility’s well-water, storm water drainage and wash water treatment systems, according to Theisen.
“I don’t know what the fix is,” he said.

Theisen said WPW officials should know more about the septic system situation this week. He added that the department is assembling a team to design a new septic system if needed. But Theisen added that it is unlikely the septic system will be completely fixed by this winter.

Some commissioners said the North Shop septic system failure highlights both issues facing the aging facility and other residential and commercial septic systems in the county.

“This amps up the who discussion we’ve had about the North facility,” said Commissioner Ted Bearth. He was referring to a WPW proposal to remodel and expand the north shop in the future.

And although Theisen and Commissioenr Fran Miron both said that properly designed and maintained septic systems in the county work properly, Commissioner Gary Kriesel said many older residential septic system do not comply with modern safety standards.
“The argument is they’re functioning well. But they’re not in compliance,” he said. “It’s a huge issue. It’s a major issue.”

As WPW officials work with contractors to learn the reason for the North Shop septic system failure, Theisen said the system’s age is likely a contributing factor.
“The reality is that this system is 50 years old,” he said. “We’re going to look at everything.

Contact Erik Sandin at erik.sandin@ecm-inc.com

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