The Lincoln City Council meeting occurred Monday January 11th at 7:00pm which included public comment and a staff presentation on the Septic Revitalization ordinance. The City Manager withdrew his recommendation to proceed. The City Council rejected his withdrawal and directed him to continue to work on the matter.
The public testimony in opposition pretty much followed that given in the DLWID Board meeting on January 7th. Testimony in support was DLWID Board chair Brian Green who read into the record the resolution passed at the board meeting adding that the Board might be able to bring back a resolution with different wording to a future Council meeting. A representative from the Salmon Creek/Drift Creek Water Shed Council supported the draft ordinance and conveyed a lake so polluted you couldn’t swim in it.
City Manager David Hawker made a presentation on the ordinance.
From his presentation it was clear that his proposal has changed in many ways between the December 3rd and January 6th versions. Additionally, certain aspects of the current proposal were explained differently at the meeting than were written in the January 6th version. You can review the meeting and draw your own conclusion by watching a re-play on cable channel 4.
Key factors of the current version include;
- A required inspection of septic tanks directly on the lake or tributaries as scheduled by the City in the next 5 years.
- An ordinance designed to sunset in 5 years with a review to determine if it should continue or be expanded to the balance of septic systems in the watershed and/or city.
- A required inspection of sand filters directly on the lake or tributaries as scheduled by the City in the next 3 years.
- No required inspection of Advanced Treatment systems.
- The County would be the only valid inspection entity and they estimate $500 expenditure. (this would not include pumping or excavation to expose lids, or distribution boxes if required)
- No new Vacation Rental Dwelling would be allowed in the City on the lake that is serviced by a septic system.
Mr Hawker then added a second possible model for enforcement which involved a $9.00 per month charge on the water bill for septic system houses to pay for the required inspection but wasn’t sure if they could do that. He also stated that you may have heard that this was a “water shut off” ordinance. He stated that was not true that City residents that do not comply will be cited in Municipal Court. Only residents outside the City would have their water shut off for non-compliance. Interestingly, he stated that once the inspection was complete the city would turn the water back on, even if it was a failed system. All enforcement for repairs and/or replacement is now to be handled by Lincoln County.
Then Mr. Hawker withdrew his recommendation to proceed with the ordinance. He stated that the City was not the primary agency. That DLWID, DEQ or Lincoln County are primary. Then he stated that the City should not go it alone, and feels that the ordinance should be tabled until DLWID can design something that can be enforced that they will support.
The Council members began asking questions and it was clear that they have an impression that most of the septic systems are failing, dumping raw sewage into the lake. They seem to think that Devils Lake is so polluted that it is unsafe and on the brink of being a “dead” lake with no life in it. The specter of Federal law suits under the endangered species act was raised and it contributed to the impression. Paul Robinson was brought forward to explain E.coli testing and Paul explained how difficult it is through tests to identify a septic as a pollution source because other than in the creeks there is such a small concentration of E.coli it can’t be measured. Mr. Hawker suggested that maybe the E.coli postings during the summer on the beach near the D-River were a result of leaking septic systems. This of course is the only E.coli source that has been positively identified as coming from seagull excrement which is why the District posts “Please Don’t Feed The Seagulls”. This may have been an honest mistake but it was not corrected for the record.
The City Council rejected Mr. Hawker’s withdrawal of the ordinance and directed him to continue to work with the DLWID on the outline of a revised ordinance. This work is to be reported back to the City Council at their February 8th meeting.