Rules & Regs: Jacksonville Had Longstanding Problem With Septic Lids, Investigators Say

In this month's regulations update, a recent investigation shows the septic tank a Florida boy died in has a history of problems and a California man is charged with illegal dumping

Rules & Regs: Jacksonville Had Longstanding Problem With Septic Lids, Investigators Say

An investigator’s report shows the Florida septic tank where a small boy died last year was not secured as it should have been and had a history of not being secure.

Amari Harley, 3, died Oct. 22, 2017 when he fell into a septic tank in Jacksonville’s Bruce Park during a family outing. The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office investigated, and the resulting report cited a number of problems.

Keeping the lids attached to two tanks at Bruce Park was a continuing problem, the investigation found. Starting in April 2016 when a citizen complained, the city secured the lids several times during the following 18 months.

An inspection on March 14, 2017, found a 55-gallon garbage barrel inside one of the tanks. Someone had removed a portion of the tank’s concrete ring in order to push in the barrel. A city contractor removed the barrel, cemented the ring back in place, and screwed the lid down.

Only a few weeks before Harley died, a city contractor found a lid was off one of the tanks.

The contractor was ERS Corp., also known as Environmental Remediation Services. Along with another company, A1 Septic Service, it is a defendant in a negligence lawsuit brought by Harley’s mother.

The Sheriff’s Office report also says the lid on the Bruce Park tank was imprinted with the words “Child Proof Screw.” An ERS employee told investigators this is a special screw that cannot be removed without a special tool.

“I did not observe that a screw was ever placed in this area,” the police investigator wrote in his report.

The report says one lid on the tank where Harley drowned had holes for six screws, but when officers examined the lid, it had only one screw with rusted threads.

After Harley died, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry ordered a review of all the city’s septic tanks and lift stations. The review found lids made of a variety of materials including metal, fiberglass and concrete. The city says 193 septic tanks are now secured with metal lids with locks. That cost $837,525. The city also stopped using outside contractors to inspect its septic tanks. That task has been assigned to a city employee who is a licensed plumber.

California man charged for illegal dumping

Police in Santa Rosa, California, spent a year tracking down a man they say illegally dumped septage into city sewers.

Carlos Velarde Chavez, 63, owner of Carlos’ Petaluma Septic Services, is charged with two felonies: property theft greater than $950 and using an improper contractor’s license number with the intent to defraud. He is also charged with 22 misdemeanors, including nearly a dozen malicious commercial discharges, contracting without a license and failure to obtain workers’ compensation insurance for employees. All this is for alleged activity from October to December 2017, according to a criminal complaint filed in court. If he is convicted on all charges, he may be sentenced to more than 16 years in prison.

At a March court hearing, Chavez pleaded not guilty to all charges.

According to reports, the investigation began with several sediment blockages in city sewer pipes. Investigators traced the blockages to the small city of Rohnert Park, which is just south of Santa Rosa and is served by the Santa Rosa wastewater system. Investigators placed sensors in the pipes and video cameras on light poles to monitor the area.

During the next two months, each time Chavez returned from a job he would park his 3,000-gallon truck in the yard of his home. The sewer sensors subsequently recorded a large discharge into the sewer system. Police allege that Chavez dug an access hole in his yard and pumped septage into the Rohnert Park system.

A local pumper who was not named told investigators he had never seen Chavez or anyone else from his company discharge septage at a legal dumping station. Potential clients told this pumper that Chavez charged half the price of other haulers. Had Chavez used a legal dumping facility, he would have paid about $119,000 to dispose of the septage, says a search warrant filed in the case.

Police learned about his alleged activity in November, but police Sgt. Marcus Sprague says evidence indicates Chavez dumped illegally for years.

Chavez has two previous convictions in Sonoma County for illegal dumping of septage, one in 1999 and the other in 2000. In both, he pleaded no contest and was placed on probation for a year. In the second case, he paid $823 in fines.

Town on Cape Cod debates sewers versus onsite systems

The town of Falmouth, Massachusetts, on the southern shore of Cape Cod, is starting a discussion about water quality improvement and whether sewers or advanced technology onsite systems provide the better solution.

At a March meeting, local government and health officials held a joint meeting about the issue and how to implement a comprehensive wastewater management plan for Falmouth. The primary issue was whether property owners who invest in an advanced onsite system would be required to hook up to municipal sewer if a pipe was laid near their property in the future.

County board to double septage dumping fees

The Butte County (California) Board of Supervisors in March voted to double the septage dumping fee from 15 cents per gallon to 32 cents.

The increase is due to the county’s shift in disposal. Previously pumper trucks dumped their loads into a lagoon. Now, wastewater must be disposed of at a transfer station from which it will be hauled to nearby Placer County. The station was built with four 15,000-gallon tanks along with a water supply and other equipment.

After the approximately 12 million gallons of water is emptied from the lagoon, it will be repurposed into space for the nearby solid waste landfill.

For consumers, the result will be a pumping charge of $320 for 1,000 gallons of septage instead of $150. That is exclusive of a pumper’s fuel and other costs. Pumpers have the option of taking waste themselves to Lincoln for processing at a cost of 12 cents per gallon.

Ohio county enforces onsite system service contract requirements

The Columbiana County (Ohio) Board of Health issued a dozen enforcement orders in March against property owners who do not have service contracts for their advanced onsite systems.

Of the 300 to 400 advanced systems in the county, about 50 are being operated without a service contract. More enforcement orders from the board are expected in the near future, reports The Review of East Liverpool.

New septic regulations in the works for New Bedford

The town of New Bedford, Massachusetts, met in March to discuss having new septic system regulations put on the agenda for the spring town meeting.

A draft law developed over the past year would require denitrification technology to be installed for all new construction and for the repair of failed systems located near a water resource, reports The Standard-Times of New Bedford.

After a discussion, the Select Board decided to ask the local Board of Health to create regulations that would not need approval at the town meeting.

New Bedford’s action follows those of several communities in Suffolk County, New York, on the eastern tip of Long Island. Those communities, and the county, are requiring advanced technology solutions for new construction, onsite system replacements, and some building expansions.

Queensbury to require onsite point-of-sale inspections for lake properties

After about a year of work, the town of Queensbury, New York, is on the verge of approving a law to require inspections of onsite systems at the time a lake property is sold.

The law is intended to protect water quality in Lake George, Glen Lake and Lake Sunnyside, reports The Post Star of Glens Falls. Only properties near those lakes would be affected by the law, and last year, only 11 properties in the area were sold.

Grant program encourages septic repairs in Conasauga River watershed

Some residents of counties in Tennessee may be eligible for help with septic system repairs if their properties are in the right place.

Eligibility is based on proximity to the Conasauga River watershed, reports the Cleveland Daily Banner in Cleveland. Money for the work is coming from the Tennessee Resource Conservation and Development Council. Typically the grant money pays 60 percent with a property owner responsible for the remaining 40 percent.

Money from the program will also pay farmers to build improvements that keep cattle out of or away from creeks.

Septic repairs and pumpouts funded by Virginia grant

Grants from the Virginia Department of Health and the Blue Ridge Soil and Water Conservation District will help people pay for septic system repairs or pumpouts if they live in the watersheds of the upper Smith River and Blackberry Creek.

At a minimum, the grants will pay for 50 percent of the cost for eligible residents, reports the Martinsville Bulletin of Martinsville. But because grant amounts are based on financial need, some residents could receive up to 90 percent of the cost of services.

The goal of the grant is to improve the water quality of the two river basins. The watersheds cover northern parts of Henry County, part of the city of Martinsville, and parts of neighboring Patrick and Franklin counties.


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