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Health board addresses septic issue

The failed sewer system in Paradise is creating frustrations for at least one resident. At the Sanders County Board of Health meeting last Wednesday at the courthouse, Seth Beech expressed concerns about property he owns in Paradise.

Beech owns a lot in Paradise on which there were two existing dwellings and to which he added a trailer in December 2023. "I understood I had usage of that septic because it encroaches over the property line," Beech told the board of health. A dwelling on Beech's lot, which he purchased in 2005, is connected to a neighbor's cesspool for wastewater disposal, while the others are connected to separate cesspools or tanks. Tina Scott with the county sanitation department said that the neighboring property owner's cesspool is failing and needs to be decommissioned. Beech's wastewater disposal for all three residences on his property violates rules set forth by the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), and Scott said no permits have been issued for the property. "The trailer has been hooked up to an unpermitted system," she told Beech. She said it's out of the county's hands at this point and that Beech will have to work with the DEQ to gain compliance. "DEQ will have to make a determination," Scott expressed.

"Probably moving forward it's going to be very difficult to have three residences on that property," County Commissioner Dan Rowan stated.

The plan for a community wastewater system for Paradise was abandoned in the summer of 2022 after agencies pulled funding from the project when there was no progress on the project after the Paradise sewer board being granted exceptions.

"I'm trying to help the community and house people where there is no housing," said Beech, who uses the residences on the lot as rentals. "The sewer project didn't fail due to lack of funding but due to lack of organization."

Terry Caldwell with the Paradise water board said the water board has issues with the connections on the property as well. "We gave Seth a letter concerning the hookup with the third residence and said he needed to comply with DEQ with sewer and that it would require a separate water hookup," Caldwell explained. "To get around that he supposedly put in a cistern and hydrant to try to get around the rules in Paradise. We're supplying water for an illegal discharge." Caldwell accused Beech of not being transparent with the water board. "We feel like it's important that that should be shut off immediately," Caldwell added. Commissioner Rowan explained that the board of health does not have jurisdiction over water issues. "That's a decision for the water board, not the board of health," Rowan stated.

Beech asked what he would have to do if a septic system was shut off, and Scott stated that would be up to DEQ. "The DEQ rules are there for public health and safety," Rowan expressed. "I don't think as a board of health we want to rehash the failure of the Paradise sewer system, but it's putting folks in a hard spot."

Also last week, Scott presented the board of health with a new fee structure for well and septic permits. "When we go out on site, we're not getting adequately paid for our time," she said, adding that in her nine years with the department, there have been no fee increases. She presented the board with fee structures for neighboring counties, noting that the proposed fees for Sanders County were still less than other counties in northwest Montana.

Under the new fee structure, a permit for a new or replacement wastewater system will increase from $100 to $200, as will the fees for a nondegradation review or reuse of an existing system. A gravelless chamber reduction evaluation will increase from $50 to $100. The fee for a well permit for a new or replacement system will increase from $50 to $100 and the fee for relocation of a previously approved well will now be $40 instead of $20. The total fee for a site evaluation will increase to $450 from $250, and the board of health variance fee will increase from $100 to $250.

"The fees seem reasonable," Commissioner Tony Cox said before the board of health voted to recommend the new fee schedule, which will need to be voted on by the county commissioners. Board of health member Bina Eggensperger, who was recently re-appointed by the commissioners to another term, abstained from voting on the new fees. She said she trusted the commissioners, who were more familiar with the funding needs of the sanitation department. "Keep in mind that by raising rates, it pushes people into not wanting to get a permit," said Caldwell, of Paradise.

Scott detailed how the number of permit applications for wells and septic systems has increased, especially after COVID.

Mindy Ferrell of Trout Creek asked the board for a status on the public health nurse. Debbie Lang moved out of the area and resigned from the position in December. Cox said that former public health nurse Karen Morey has agreed to work one day a week and help with vaccinations. "We are actively looking for a new health nurse," Rowan stated. Catherine DeWitt, the newest member of the board of health, suggested the county consider hiring traveling nurses, though housing would be an issue.

DeWitt and Eggensperger were appointed to the board of health by the commissioners. Other residents who applied for the positions included Tristan Egelhoff, Sandra Gubel, Lynn Bierwagen, David Costner, Dawn Gandalf, Colleen Hinds and Kate Hardman.

The next board of health meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, April 10, at 2 p.m. in the commissioners' conference room.


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