Septic system exams cause a stink in Yacolt

Leaders, residents split if town should conduct inspections

By Ray Legendre, Columbian staff writer

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There’s stinky, and then there’s septic system stinky.

Septic system inspections are not generally an exciting topic. But, in the town of Yacolt, the right to choose who inspects your system is potentially a contentious one, particularly because dollars are at stake.

Currently, Yacolt residents must pay for either a town employee or outside contractor to inspect their system. Homeowners can’t select who does the inspection, even though the town’s inspection costs roughly $30-40 less, according to town officials.

However, some object to the town performing the inspections at all.

Yacolt’s town council could decide in January or February whether or not to provide residents the option to choose who performs their septic system inspection, Public Works Director Pete Roberts said.

Yacolt Mayor Jeff Carothers said he expected septic system inspections to appear on the town council’s agenda “shortly,” but declined to discuss his thoughts on them before he had dialogue with the council and town residents.

In 2006, Clark Public Utilities upgraded Yacolt residents’ septic systems with risers and lids, if they agreed to have the town inspect their system, Roberts said. Other people chose to pay an outsider to perform their inspection.

Yacolt does not have a sewer system. It did form a general sewer plan earlier this year, but a sewer system is currently beyond the town’s economic reach, Roberts said.

In the meantime, the septic system is the town’s answer for sewage.

“I think what we will do is give everybody a choice,” Roberts said, regarding the inspection process.

Roberts is hopeful, if given the choice, residents would elect to pay the town. He estimated the town charges residents $84 over the span of a year; outside inspectors often charge between $115-$125.

“Looking at it from a budget standpoint, it would be nice if the town did (the inspections), because if the town did it, the money stays in town,” Roberts said.

Septic system inspections are generally performed every two to three years, depending on the system’s type. There are systems that require yearly inspections, but the town’s public works department has not dealt with any. The majority of the systems inspected in the town require inspection every three years, Roberts said.

Septic problems on a given street would be easier to identify and fix if one person did all of the inspections (i.e., the town), Roberts said.

Not everyone is behind the town’s involvement in the septic system game, however.

Mayor Pro-Tem Karen Holyk argues state law precludes towns like Yacolt from doing septic system inspections.

“It clearly states towns and cities cannot do those,” Holyk said. Instead, she favors having the inspections be done by the lowest bidder or letting contractors perform inspections without a set rate.

“Government should be there to regulate and oversee,” Holyk added.

In a letter sent to then-Mayor James Weldon and council members in July, town attorney David Ridenour wrote he did not find any specific prohibitions in state law banning a town from performing septic inspections. Like most legal issues, the septic inspection question is not “black and white,” he said Wednesday.

“If it was cut and dry,” Roberts added, “the town wouldn’t do it.”

Former councilman Dave Ayers also spoke to existing concerns.

“Some people don’t feel the town should be doing (the inspections),” Ayers said. “It’s up to the new council.”

Ray Legendre: 360-735-4517; www.facebook.com/raylegend;www.twitter.com/col_smallcities;ray.legendre@columbian.com.