In this month's regulations update, a Florida bill may require septic inspections for estate sales, and a supervisor in New York proposes upgraded onsite systems with rebates for those who participate.
Beginning Nov. 17, anyone operating a crane delivering concrete septic tanks to a job site must be certified to do so under a coming rule from the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration. In 2014, OSHA extended the deadline for certification to this year. The rule was originally published in 2010, and the agency estimated then that crane operations result in 89 fatalities annually in construction work.
As OSHA was forming the rule, the National Precast Concrete Association said their members’ work consists of delivering materials and suggested truck operators need not go through certification. The rule said any crane hoisting and placing items, as opposed to lifting materials and placing them on the ground, was engaged in construction and should have a certified operator.
When it became clear that the certification requirement would remain, NCPA worked to develop a certification program specific for the precast industry. This certification is for boom trucks of less than 21 tons, which is a large fraction of the cranes in use. Certification requires the completion of three exams. Two are written exams, one on general knowledge and the other specific to the precast industry. There is also a practical exam that must be taken on a boom truck of less than 21 tons and with a boom of between 31 and 41 feet in length.
A bill introduced by Rep. Randy Fine, (R-Palm Bay) in the Florida House of Representatives (HB 285) would require the inspection of septic tanks as part of real estate sales. Fine’s focus is the Indian River Lagoon, which last year was shown to be polluted by waste leaking from septic tanks. The number of tanks in the area is unknown, but is estimated in the hundreds of thousands because five counties surround the water body.
Under the proposal, taxpayers will not be required to contribute to this cost, nor does this require property owners to pay for inspections if they have no plans to sell their homes. Inspections will help to inform buyers about the properties they are looking at, he said.
A bill in the North Dakota Legislature would shift responsibility for onsite wastewater system inspections from local health departments to the state Plumbing Board. The bill authorizes hiring additional inspectors and authorizes fees necessary to recover the cost of inspections.
The change would provide uniform enforcement across the state, but the state plumbing inspectors are not comfortable with the change. The chief inspector for the board said onsite systems are properly a public health issue and are outside the expertise of the board’s inspectors.
Representatives from environmental health divisions across the state have been working on a uniform code to make regulations consistent, and the Plumbing Board’s chief inspector said his organization would support that. It is also possible that the board could set standards and then contract with local health inspectors to perform fieldwork.
County commissioners in Thurston County, Washington, are rethinking a septic inspection fee scheduled to take effect Jan. 1, 2018. The county touches the southern end of Puget Sound and includes the state capital of Olympia.
The fee would apply to all properties using onsite systems, including those within cities such as Olympia. The only exception is land in a special district to protect shellfish that live in the waters of Puget Sound. Each single-family home would pay $10 while multi-family buildings would pay $10 per housing unit. The money would be used to pay for staff, for monitoring and for outreach.
An election put the fee in doubt. Two recently elected county commissioners campaigned on the promise of repealing the fee. Their predecessors advocated the fee as a way to protect drinking water quality. Commissioners said they want more information about onsite system failures and how other counties are updating their onsite management plans. Then they will decide whether to make any changes to the septic fee. They asked the county public health staff to assemble that information.
As Maryland legislators gathered to outline their priorities, environmentalists also gathered to ask for the return of a rule governing onsite technology. Their desire is a bill that would require the best available technology to reduce water pollution.
In 2016, Republican Gov. Larry Hogan announced a rule change that allowed counties to decide whether to require onsite systems with the best available technology on lands outside environmentally critical areas. Critical areas include land with 1,000 feet of tidal waters or wetlands along Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic Ocean.
The old rule governed newly installed onsite systems and required technology that cut nitrogen emissions in half. Opponents of that rule said it is unclear how much nitrogen moves from onsite systems into waterways outside those environmentally critical areas. The state construction industry also objected. A spokeswoman said property owners outside critical areas faced a significant cost without clear evidence of a benefit.
A supervisor in the town of East Hampton, New York, is proposing a law to require upgraded onsite systems and to offer rebates for people to make the technology switch. The town is on the shore of the Atlantic Ocean and near the tip of Long Island, and homes there are known for having cesspools and older onsite technology in an area with sandy soils and high water tables.
The bill would require all new commercial and residential construction, and buildings undergoing major renovation, to install onsite systems discharging nitrogen at less than 19 mg/L.
In the most environmentally sensitive areas, those with high groundwater or proximity to tidal water bodies, qualifying property owners would be reimbursed for the full cost of replacing a system up to a maximum of $15,000. Other homeowners replacing systems would receive $5,000 to $15,000 depending on what system they have now and household income.
Money for the work would come from the town’s Community Preservation Fund. It is funded by a 2 percent tax on real estate transactions, and up to 20 percent of it can be used annually for water quality improvement projects. Based on 2016 revenues, the town will have about $6 million for water quality projects in 2017.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has approved a request from the state of Wisconsin to provide less-costly options for meeting the state’s limits on phosphorus pollution. The state will now have the option of phasing in rules that govern point source discharges such as factories and wastewater treatment plants, the EPA said.
The EPA variance will last for 10 years with an option for another 10-year extension.
To apply for a variance from the rules, an entity must face a major facility upgrade to comply with the limit. Even under a variance, phosphorus discharges must decrease for each five-year term of the entity’s NPDES permit, and the entity must implement a watershed improvement project or pay an amount per pound of phosphorus discharged in excess of the permit limit.
When it approved tougher phosphorus regulations in 2010, Wisconsin was among the first states to adopt specific standards for the substance. Businesses objected to the projected cost. An analysis by two state departments estimated that cost at more than $7 billion over the next 20 years.