Kalkaska County Bid to End Point-of-Sale Septic Inspection Program Fails

Septic ordinance stands, as local Health Board delivers a victory for septic and groundwater protections

Seth Phillips seated in the middle of a panel at FLOW’s November 6 Septic Summit. Photo by Rick Kane

By Seth Phillips

Residents and wastewater users in Kalkaska County can rest easier at night. A bid to weaken septic and groundwater protections has failed.

The November 22 meeting of the District 10 Health Board yielded what appears to be the final chapter of the year-long effort to prevent Kalkaska County from ending the point-of-sale septic inspection program contained in the District 10 Health Department Sanitary Code. Ending the program would have required the approval of the Boards of Commissioners of all 10 counties in the health district. On October 22, the Manistee County Board of Commissioners (also part of District 10) voted not to allow Kalkaska County to end this program, which means the program continues as it was enacted.

In an angry response, the Kalkaska County Board of Commissioners subsequently rescinded its prior vote to approve program improvements that Manistee County was seeking to add to its point-of-sale program. At the November 22 health board meeting, the health department’s legal council announced it had determined that Kalkaska’s vote to change its earlier decision approving Manistee’s changes was valid. Hence, the point-of-sale program continues in both counties as it was originally enacted. Any further effort to change the program requires starting the entire amendment process all over again.

Todays’ Traverse City Record-Eagle reports that a year’s worth of public hearings, debate and government action resulted in no changes for Kalkaska and Manistee Counties.

Could Kalkaska County leave District 10? 

At the November 22 health board meeting, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) explained the requirements for a county to leave a district health department under the state Public Health Code. Kalkaska County has discussed this possibility in light of the results of the voting on the septic program.  However, two formal opinions from the state Attorney General prohibit a county from unilaterally leaving a district health department without the approval of all other counties in the district.  Furthermore, the District 10 bylaws require any county wishing to leave to give a two-year notice before doing so. 

The MDHHS also presented a detailed list of all the mandatory programs the new county health department would be required to undertake. The county would have to obtain state approval of a plan to implement all these services before leaving. Kalkaska County would be required to hire a health director, a medical director and fund a broad array of services for which it currently has no budgeted funding.

Given all this information, it would appear—absent litigation—that the Kalkaska County point of sale septic inspection program has been preserved … for now.

Manistee Lake Association member Seth Phillips spoke in favor of local septic ordinances at FLOW’s Septic Summit on November 6.

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