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Article 3 to address potentially failing septic systems in York

On November 4, York voters will have the opportunity to enact a new ordinance that will require homeowners or buyers to have a septic system inspection done at the time of property sale or transfer. Some real estate brokers have objected to the ordinance, claiming that most buyers already get the septic inspected prior to buying a house.

However, according to a recent York Weekly article (Sept.10, 2014), “Town officials said what’s currently missing is having a report sent to the town for them to know which septic systems are failing. The ordinance would require a Maine Licensed Site Evaluator or Certified Septic Inspector to send a report to the local plumbing inspector within 30 days of the completion of an inspection.”

Below are more arguments in favor of the ordinance:

Cape Neddick River

Cape Neddick River

  • Article 3 protects our wells, our fishing industry, and tourism, the base of our economy here in York.
  • The impact from failing septic systems is a town-wide issue. We all live on a watershed. Every property in York drains into the York River, Cape Neddick River and all our beaches. A 2011 study showed human fecal bacteria in multiple sites on Long Sands and Short Sands Beaches on multiple occasions. It is very possible that this contamination traveled from failing septic systems miles away from the coast.
  • Water pollution from failing septic systems is DEVASTATING to York property values. Who wants to live on or near a polluted beach?
  • Article 3 protects our local economy. Beach related spending in Maine is estimated at $500 million per year.
  • Article 3 is about Personal Responsibility. We ALL pay for failing septic systems by funding clean up with tax dollars. Residents need to ensure their septic systems are not polluting the environment.
  • There are already 386 Certified Septic System Inspectors in the State of Maine (dozens in York County alone).
  • Septic system replacement grants are available through the State of Maine.

Update [Oct. 18, 2014]:  Here is a link to a report with the lengthy title, Maine Healthy Beaches Program Microbial Source Tracking Pilot Study 2011; Technical Report: Microbial Source Tracking to Identify Human Sources of Fecal Contamination in Coastal York County in Summer 2011. MHBP Final_Technical_Report_3-26-12

The 27-page scientific study goes into great detail about the methods used to monitor a number of sites where runoff flowed into Cape Neddick Beach, Short Sands Beach, and Long Sands Beach.

Among the admittedly preliminary findings was that  “96 % of the water samples evaluated in this study exceeded the Maine single sample advisory  limit of 104 MPN Enterococcus per 100 mL of water, and 12.5 % were over 130 times higher than this threshold.”

The study found signs of “serious potential human fecal problems” where fresh water entered all three beaches. Although the author of the study could not identify the actual sources of the fecal contamination, it is unlikely to be from the sewer district’s outflow because all sampling was done at either storm water discharge areas or at fresh water tributaries.

Also noted in the document was the conclusion that “fecal contamination is a serious public health concern, because wastes from humans and other animals often carry pathogenic organisms that can infect people who use the water for recreational purposes such as fishing and swimming.”

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3 comments to Article 3 to address potentially failing septic systems in York

  • Jean McGurl

    Please provide the specific reference that proves the “human fecal bacteria” is from sewer systems that are located miles from the shore and NOT from the sewer systems that line the beaches! This is lazy and has no scientific proof of anything except to place a burden on homeowners. Who makes out in this deal, the town and the certified septic system inspectors!

  • I’ve asked the source of the list to provide a reference. In the meantime, why would it matter that much whether a failing septic system was polluting a beach or a nearby stream or a neighbor’s well? How would you determine what a safe distance from the shore would be to “safely” pollute?

    If most buyers (or lending institutions) already require inspection of a septic system before sale, why would this ordinance be such an onerous burden?

    If a buyer knew the septic system was inadequate and still chose not to fix it, how would the neighbors or anyone else downstream know unless the results of the inspection were reported to the plumbing inspector?

    Beach pollution is a real problem in York. Nobody is saying that septic systems are the only source of this pollution, but anything that can reasonably be done to reduce or eliminate this source would be a step in the right direction.

    Finally, the argument that this proposed ordinance would cause huge delays in home sales seems to be a stretch. Radon testing is already required, and often other inspections are required by lenders. Like those inspections, septic inspections will just be part of the process.

  • I believe the person who wrote this response is confused about the difference between a sewer and a septic system. We are talking about septic systems. Not sewer.

    There are multiple studies on the Cape Neddick River the York River that point out “hot spots” way up in the watershed on both rivers. For some years now, grammar and middle school students have been learning about the effects of water drainage in the upper watersheds to our lower watersheds. This has been proven science for decades. The responder doesn’t seem to understand the basics of a watershed, the proven science of a watershed, and obviously doesn’t care to.

    In the article above you can find a link to the alarming report from Maine Healthy Beaches. It did not trace back to the source because that is so expensive, but note that fecal bacteria was found in fresh water tributaries and was traveling to the salt water. If the realtors would like to give us some of their funding then we can trace those contaminations back to their source. But, even if we’re not talking about the beaches, why would we want our ponds and streams in the upper watersheds to be polluted by someone’s failing septic?

    I would like ask why this person thinks the town will “make out”? If he/she means that the town won’t have to pay to clean up a toxic mess from someone’s failing septic then, yes, the town AND ALL TAX PAYERS will “make out”. And as far as the certified inspectors , I’ve heard realtors say over and over that they already do this every time a house is sold. So, I’m confused as to why they are making such a big deal of this. Actually, all the opposition to this is really about the realtors “making out”.