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Langley might require septic tank pumping

Langley homeowners who treat their waste water with septic systems might not be required to hook up to city sewer any time soon, but could soon be required to better maintain those systems.

Members of the Langley City Council stated this week that they want septic systems within city limits pumped and inspected at three-year intervals, as is required by what was, until now, an obscure city ordinance.

During a meeting Wednesday with officials from the Island County Health Department, the council and several interested city residents learned hard facts about the pros and cons of septic systems and sewers and where the county stands on the argument. Tim McDonald, the county's health services director, was clear when it came to his preferences. He said Langley, being a dense urban area, should have sewer hookups for all its residents.

"We believe sewer systems are the best way to go," he said.

Though Langley residents resoundingly rejected a $2.8 million proposal by the city this spring to expand the city's sewer system to the Edgecliff and First Street areas, McDonald's comments carried the weight of authority. Should an unsewered neighborhood in Langley start experiencing a number of septic system failures, the county health department can require the installation of a sanitary sewer.

McDonald said it is unfortunate that Langley is not proceeding with its recent sewer proposal. Had residents of the Edgecliff and First Street neighborhoods approved of the sewer extension, Langley would have qualified for a low-interest state loan. In the current economic climate, McDonald said, that money may not be available again for some time.

"Any kind of money you can get now doesn't look like money you can get in the future," he said.

But with the failure of Local Utility Improvement District 9, 129 property owners, who could have been billed up to about $13,000 each for a sewer hookup, will remain on septic systems for some time.

That, McDonald said, is a health concern in a city. Because water treated with septic systems drains into the ground and, eventually, the groundwater, toxic substances could eventually leach into well water. McDonald said the risk for this at urban development densities is "substantial." A sanitary sewer, like the one currently serving portions of Langley, pipes waste away from homes for treatment before an eventual trip into Puget Sound.

Rolf Seitle, an Edgecliff Drive resident, attempted to poke holes in McDonald's argument. He asserted that water treated by a septic system and filtered through soil over time could be of drinking quality. McDonald said that is not necessarily true, especially when a system fails and allows solid waste to flow into a drainfield.

The best way for the city to keep its water safe while it continues to use both sanitary sewer and septic systems, McDonald said, is to require regular septic tank pump outs and visual inspections. Langley Mayor Lloyd Furman said the city already has an ordinance to that effect on the books, but noted that it has not been enforced for some time. The 1993 ordinance calls for the city do the inpections and allows it to charge for the service.

McDonald said his agency can help. This year, the health department will send out about 16,000 notices to septic system owners, reminding them they need their systems pumped. He said he could send out the same notices to Langley residents.

Unlike most proposals related to wastewater presented at a council meeting over the past six months, this idea met with apparently universal approval. Voicing their support for enforcing the city ordinance were Seitle and council member Neil Colburn, two men who have argued on different sides of the sewer issue.

The council took no formal action on the discussion.

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