Septic waste bill spurs debate

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Capital News Service
LANSING– Municipal waste facilities would be required to accept all septic waste produced within 25 miles under a bill awaiting action in the Senate.
Under current law, local governments can decide whether to allow septic waste to be applied on land. If a locality requires that all septic waste be disposed of in a receiving facility or prohibits land application of septic waste, it must make available a treatment facility.
This bill is intended to make it easier to treat the waste that can cause serious health problem, supporters say.
Chuck Hersey, environmental programs manager of the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments said, “This is a bit of a chicken-and-egg issue. Many communities want to discourage or prohibit land application to protect water quality. But to avoid land application, you need to have a conveniently located disposal facility for haulers.”
The legislation is a response to a 2007 court decision in a Grand Traverse County case.
Rep. Ken Goike, R-Ray Township, is the primary sponsor. Co-sponsors include Reps. Rick Outman, R-Six Lakes; Paul Muxlow, R-Brown City; Peter Pettalia, R-Presque Isle; and Joe Haveman, R-Holland.
“Currently, in some communities under the law, haulers have to travel 100 miles to dispose of such waste, which is a quite costly way,” said Kyle Kaminski, Goike’s legislative director. “This legislation should help keep septic service costs down by saving fuel and also help prevent some system failures.”
Although the legislation is promoted as an environmental benefit, some groups question its economic feasibility.
MoReno Taylor, legislative coordinator for the Michigan Association of Counties, said, “This legislation presents a possible unfunded mandate on local units of government. It would unfairly burden those counties that chose to prohibit land application of waste by legislating that a facility must be built to accept that waste if one is not already available. This could cost millions of dollars.”
Taylor continued, “The cost of transporting it is a business-related expense that the individuals were well aware of when they went into the hauling business. Those costs are already being passed along to the consumers that they service.
“This bill in my opinion only benefits one group,” he said.
Tom Frazier, legislative liaison of the Michigan Townships Association, said, “Costs would most definitely rise under the bill to meet the 25 radial mile requirement if a local unit banned the land application of septage and had to build their own receiving facility.”
Frazier continued, “However, it is unlikely that a local unit would go to these extremes simply to ban land application.”
Another argument focuses on local control of decisions whether to allow land application of septic waste, Taylor and Frazier said.
But Kaminski said the most important part of the bill is “helping local communities handle the waste problem, not only to make decisions, but also be responsive to this problem.”
The Department of Environmental Quality is neutral on the legislation, communications director Brad Wurfel said.
“The question is not whether current laws are sufficient. It’s whether the present regulatory structure addresses two key priorities: Does it protect the environment effectively? And is it reasonable and workable for the regulated community?” Wurfel said.
The bill was approved by the House and is pending in the Senate.
© 2012, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Nonmembers cannot reproduce CNS articles without written permission.

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