Pending Michigan bill seeks to curb septic waste seeping into land, water
By Xinjuan Deng
Capital News Service
LANSING– Michigan municipal waste facilities would be required to accept all septic waste produced within 25 miles under a bill awaiting action in the Senate.
Under current law, local governments can decide whether to allow septic waste to be applied on land. If a locality requires that all septic waste be disposed of in a receiving facility or prohibits land application of septic waste, it must make available a treatment facility.
This bill is intended to make it easier to treat the waste that can cause serious health problem, supporters say.
“This is a bit of a chicken-and-egg issue,” said Chuck Hersey, environmental programs manager of the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments. “Many communities want to discourage or prohibit land application to protect water quality. But to avoid land application, you need to have a conveniently located disposal facility for haulers.”
The legislation is a response to a 2007 court decision in a Grand Traverse County case.
Rep. Ken Goike, R-Ray Township, is the primary sponsor. Co-sponsors include Reps. Rick Outman, R-Six Lakes; Paul Muxlow, R-Brown City; Peter Pettalia, R-Presque Isle; and Joe Haveman, R-Holland.
“Currently, in some communities under the law, haulers have to travel 100 miles to dispose of such waste, which is a quite costly way,” said Kyle Kaminski, Goike’s legislative director. “This legislation should help keep septic service costs down by saving fuel and also help prevent some system failures.”
Although the legislation is promoted as an environmental benefit, some groups question its economic feasibility.
“This legislation presents a possible unfunded mandate on local units of government,” said MoReno Taylor, legislative coordinator for the Michigan Association of Counties. ”It would unfairly burden those counties that chose to prohibit land application of waste by legislating that a facility must be built to accept that waste if one is not already available. This could cost millions of dollars.
“The cost of transporting it is a business-related expense that the individuals were well aware of when they went into the hauling business,” Taylor said. “Those costs are already being passed along to the consumers that they service. This bill in my opinion only benefits one group.”
Tom Frazier, legislative liaison of the Michigan Townships Association, said the cost of disposal may go up if the legislation is passed, and “if the pumping cost increases, people may not pump out very often.”
Another argument focuses on local control of decisions whether to allow land application of septic waste, Taylor and Frazier said.
But Kaminski said the most important part of the bill is “helping local communities handle the waste problem, not only to make decisions, but also be responsive to this problem.”
The Department of Environmental Quality is neutral on the legislation, communications director Brad Wurfel said.
“The question is not whether current laws are sufficient. It’s whether the present regulatory structure addresses two key priorities: Does it protect the environment effectively? And is it reasonable and workable for the regulated community?” Wurfel said.
The bill was approved by the House and is pending in the Senate.