SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska

Borough Public Works Proposing New Plan for Onsite Wastewater Treatment Systems
By Mary Kauffman, SitNews


August 16, 2012

(SitNews) Ketchikan, Alaska - One of several items on the agenda for the Ketchikan Borough Assembly's meeting Monday is a work session to discuss septic tanks or onsite wastewater treatment systems.

A typical Onsite Wastewater Treatment System (OWTS) in the Ketchikan Borough consists of a septic tank and a soil absorption field that allows treated effluent to infiltrate into the soil. When maintained and functioning properly, these systems are said to be effective at removing pollutants before they enter into the environment.

Borough Public Works Director Ed Schofield will present an overview to Assembly Members for discussion on options for improving onsite wastewater treatment systems (OWTS) in the Ketchikan Gateway Borough. According to Schofield's agenda statement, the intent of this Onsite Wastewater Treatment System (OWTS) Management Plan work session is to provide the Borough Assembly a forum for additional questions and answers to better articulate the workings of the Onsite Wastewater Treatment System (OWTS) Management Plan.

According to information provided to the Assembly at the July 16th meeting, Schofield reported 1,231 Onsite Wastewater Treatment Systems in the Borough. Of those, 50 percent had known deficiencies, as discovered during visual inspections by the Borough’s sludge pumping contractor who also reported there was no follow up on those deficiencies. Of those 90 percent of the deficiencies required minor repairs that would cost on average $600 per system and 10 percent of the deficiencies require major repairs, which would cost around $15,000 per unit.

Schofield told the Assembly on July 16th, the total estimated cost of repairs would be $3,225,600 with the entire cost covered by the homeowner over a three-year period.

The proposed changes to Onsite Wastewater Treatment Systems (OWTS) in the borough will affect a large number of the Borough’s residents and for that reason, Schofield states in his August 20th agenda summary that it is absolutely paramount that all aspects of this plan be clearly defined and discussed publicly and approved by the Ketchikan Borough Assembly. The information items below describe some of the required changes to Borough policies the need for changes to the Borough Code of Ordinances.

The proposed plan for the new system would require a Certificate of Health Authority or “Health Certificate” letter detailing the operational status and compliance of an Onsite Wastewater Treatment System (OWTS).

This "Health Certificate " letter would be signed by a registered engineer and the Ketchikan Borough Public Works Department and would be given at the request of a property owner. It is proposed this letter will be a useful tool during land transfers and property sales to ensure a complaint system for a new owner. In the case of a failing system or one that does not meet the compliance requirements, Public Works will work with the land owner to resolve all deficiencies and return the system to compliance.

In the event the owner of a property with a non-compliant OWTS does not take action to bring the Onsite Wastewater Treatment System (OWTS) into compliance with local, state and federal regulations the new plan would allow the Public Works Department to record a Certificate of Non-Compliance to be recorded against the property. This course of action is similar to a lien, however there is no monetary penalty to the Borough to cause its removal; it is only used to bring the Onsite Wastewater Treatment System (OWTS) into compliance. The Certificate of Non-Compliance may be used outside of real estate transactions as a last resort in cases where an owner is unwilling to meet their maintenance responsibilities. The Certificate of Non-Compliance will be removed from a property when the owner demonstrates the system has been properly permitted and is functioning in compliance.

Another proposed change is the Notice of Onsite Wastewater System (NOW). During the Department of Environmental Conservation process, applying for an Onsite Wastewater Treatment System (OWTS) and as part of final approval to operate, an owner signs a document that they agree to properly maintain their system as recommended by the manufacturer. This recommended maintenance schedule will be considered a binding document and shall be kept on file with the Ketchikan Borough Public Works Department. The notice can be updated when the owner obtains a new DEC or Borough approved septic permit or can be granted for existing owners after the Borough’s Compliance Officer completes an inspection that results in the issuance of a Certificate of Health Authority.

According to Schofield's agenda summary, currently when the Borough receives a general complaint of raw sewage seeping onto a complainant’s property from their neighbor’s lot the only action the Borough says is, “call DEC”. Under the proposed new changes the Borough will send out qualified personnel to investigate the complaint. The investigation will include photographs documenting the situation, conferring with the complainant as to the nature of the problem and taking sanitary samples as necessary for lab processing to determine the type of discharge and potential health threat. If the tests are negative and the field reports do not indicate evidence of improper sewage or gray water disposal then the complaint will be logged and closed out. However, if the test field reports are positive or warrant further investigation, the alleged violator will be notified of the problem and the Public Works Department will begin the process of working with the property owner to diagnose and correct the cause of the problem.

A cost increase on the sludge fee is also proposed. Schofield noted that the cost increase on the sludge is very significant, but it is the only way to implement a user pays approach to the compliance inspection program, and the compliance inspection is essential to resolving the ongoing problem of failed systems. The remainder of the program is designed to prevent recurrence. If the Assembly does not favor the fee increase, Public Works staff is recommending the program continue, but a viable alternate funding mechanism will be needed.

Also proposed are Code changes. Under the proposed Code changes the Ketchikan Borough Public Works Department would have the tools to use when an owner chooses not to remedy the problem; the Borough would have more alternatives than doing nothing. One option suggested for consideration would be to cite the owner as violating Title 17 ($100). If that citation does not cause a remedy to the problem then the Borough may cause the remediation of the problem and cite the costs to the owner. An alternative to that action would be to record a Certificate of Non-Compliance on the property. These potential actions would only result if repeated attempts to notice the owner were unsuccessful. After the problem is resolved the Public Works Department can issue a Certificate of Health Authority.

The proposed Code changes, while they are many, are necessary says Schofield to assure the plan works efficiently, fairly, and obtains the intended purpose of the plan, which is to correct the health and safety concerns presently found throughout the Ketchikan Borough from the results of poorly or incorrectly maintained Onsite Wastewater Treatment System (OWTS).

The plan that is being presented is not complex but it is a significant change from present Borough practice and so may seem complicated at its first presentation. Public education and awareness is key to the success of the plan according to the summary by Schofield.

Following the work session presentation Monday, Borough Public Works staff will be requesting the Ketchikan Borough Assembly to provide direction to Staff to proceed with the recommended onsite wastewater treatment system program which includes:

  • Prepare an ordinance amending the KGB Code to address the sewage and septic waste disposal needs in the Borough as proposed in the recommended onsite wastewater treatment system management plan.
  • Upon approval of the ordinance implementing the OWTS management plan, increase the monthly fees to property owners from $15 (current sludge fee) to $31 (proposed OWTS maintenance fee).
  • Bring forward a budget appropriation for the costs to implement this program, in an amount not to exceed $200,000, which includes contracted engineering services to act as compliance officer.
  • Contract for an engineer to carry out the services in the program such as monitoring and maintenance of the onsite systems, as well as compliance follow-up actions.

This worksession was scheduled at the direction of the Assembly to followup the previous presentation on Onsite Wastewater Treatment Systems (OWTS) by Borough Public Works Director Ed Schofield at the July 16, 2012 public meeting.


Assembly meeting Management Plan Work sessions are informal discussion sessions held for the purpose of exchanging and gathering information. No action may be taken, formal rules of order are relaxed, and minutes are not kept.

The meeting will be held in the Assembly Chambers, 1900 First Avenue, Suite 144 on Monday, August 20, 2012. It is scheduled to being at 5:30 pm.


On the Web:

KGB Assembly
August 20, 2012 Complete Agenda and Information Packets




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