Attorney tries to answer some of the questions facing Utility Authority

Published 4:50 pm Friday, October 6, 2006

Pearl River County Utility Authority attorney Mike Caples recently tried to answer some of the questions that have arisen as new rules and regulations are proposed for the county.

So far, the authority has begun reviewing “sketch plans” of new developments. A sketch plan is a tentative drawing of where a development will sit relative to major roads and displays where individual lots will be laid out, Caples said.

Authority water service customers, when there are some, will be given the option to pay an extra $15 a month to have their septic tank maintained by the authority, ensuring that it stays in good shape.

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This extra monthly charge may be a good idea because the rules and regulations will deem that septic tanks need to be certified and inspected regularly, Caples said. That could be every four or five years, since the authority is still working out a time frame. Those inspections need to be conducted by a certified inspector, he said. The cost for such an inspection usually runs about $75.

“That’s not a tremendous expense to make sure a septic tank is working properly,” Caples said.

Major expenses arise when septic tanks need to be emptied by a waste hauler. Caples said that service could cost between $300 to $500. Septic tanks need to be emptied regularly, with the interval dependent on the amount of solid waste is sent to a septic tank and especially in homes with garbage disposals or if grease and oil is added to the mix. Those aspects increase the biodegradation time frame, filling tanks up faster. In addition some toilet cleaners, especially those with antibacterial ingredients, kill the bacteria in septic tanks that naturally biodegrade the solid waste, Caples said. Adding chemicals like RidX will help ensure proper biodegradation with adequate bacteria levels.

That $15 charge each month will ensure the septic tank is well maintained, Caples said. If the tank needs to be inspected, then the authority will automatically send an inspector before the deadline arrives, no notification needed. If the tank needs to be emptied after the inspection is conducted then the authority will take care of that as well, he said. That monthly charge also will cover residents if a septic tank is damaged and needs to be replaced, such as if a vehicle or some form of machinery falls into it, he said.

“So for a little bit of money each month they’re basically getting a guarantee that their septic tank is going to work,” Caples said.

The rules and regulations the utility authority are considering were put together by the Department of Environmental Quality, Department of Public Health, Public Service Commission, 13 engineering firms located in the six coastal counties of Mississippi and six lawyers also from the six coastal counties, he said. That group of people met for four to five hours a day three times a week for a month, he said. Those proposed rules and regulations are called a guidance document because the authority is only considering them for adoption, he said.

One of the rules that may modified involves lot size restrictions in subdivisions with septic tanks. Subdivisions with community water service from a water company currently need at least a two-acre lot if it is in a subdivision. If the home is hooked to a private well and uses a septic tank then three acres of land would be required, Caples said.

However, the authority is considering allowing one-acre lots for subdivisions if the home will use community water and are not in a flood plain, near wetlands or near a body of water, Caples said. Based on restrictions passed down by the Health Department, those rules apply to community water serviced lots since lots. Lots with private wells need sufficient space to let the waste water absorb into the ground and not contaminate potable water in the well.

Another aspect for the Utility Authority to watch over is storm water, which is precipitation that is shed from land that has been developed. One aspect of that topic is the quantity of the storm water and where it will go. Development processes cover earth that would normally absorb water with pavement or with a structure, preventing water from being absorbed by the earth, Caples said. This forces water to move into other areas it would not have traveled before, creating issues for developers to overcome.

“At some point you end up flooding something,” Caples said.

Usually, purposefully undeveloped fields are flooded but sometimes other homes are flooded because of storm water being forced elsewhere by development, he said. Storm water affected by development can be managed with three different systems — water detention, water retention and grassy swells. Detention utilizes ponds built to hold the water in the subdivision in which it falls. Retention utilizes dry areas designed to catch water and dispose of water slowly with the use of a pipe in a concrete structure that regulates how much water enters the ground. The last option is to use grassy swells consisting of areas of grassy rippled land to slow the flow of water, Caples said.

The Authority also deals with the quality of storm water, which involves the regulation of pollution in storm water, Caples said. This can be regulated with bales of hay or fencing designed to trap dirt and silt. Another aspect will collect vehicle fluid drips and the trash that accumulates in parking lots. These will be collected in specially designed catch ponds on the outskirts of parking lots, Caples said. The ponds may have plants and flowers around them for aesthetics.