County Board okays shift in sewage ordinance

Published 6:07 pm Friday, November 12, 2021

New wording will allow for minor structures without triggering compliance checks

The Mower County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday voted to approve changes to the Subsurface Sewage Treatment Ordinance (SSTS) , which will give more flexibility to landowners.

The board originally passed the SSTS last winter with two goals in mind.

The first was to improve water quality by increasing SSTS compliance through additional inspections. The second was to require septic system status at the time of transfer (sale) with the intent that it not be passed on.

However, while the ordinance increased compliance inspections and landowners were starting to think ahead, it also created a knot in the zoning permit process in that some situations triggered SSTS compliance inspections when landowners applied for smaller buildings.

The result was many landowners chose not to build for fear of triggering an inspection.

“A lot of this situation is fear of possible outcomes rather than actual outcomes,” said Valerie Sheedy, assistant environmental services supervisor, to the board Tuesday.

Through the work of the Planning Commission and a Land Use Committee that consisted of County Board members Jerry Reinartz and John Mueller, County Administrator Trish Harren, Environmental Services Supervisor Angela Lipelt and Sheedy, a more streamlined approach was found.

Among those changes included defining small structures as 200 square feet or less with a height of 14 feet or less, with decks folded into the definition. The escrow account required was lowered to 10% of the system cost and a zoning review pathway was created for minor structures.

There’s also no limit to how many minor structures can be built on a property, a concern of the Planning Commission in the early stages of this revision.

People are still required to apply for a zoning permit for a structure, but if its determined that the structure falls below the requirements, then they will be able to go down that pathway without triggering a septic compliance check.

However, if the structure is larger than the agreed upon dimensions and inspection will be triggered.

“We’re widening the window for minor structures and letting the minor things go through without getting compliance for septic systems,” Sheedy said.

It’s also opening the door for a shift in how the process might be defined going forward, making it easier to understand for the public.

“We can work real hard at educating and providing that to people, but if we’re using the wrong language it could fall on deaf ears,” Sheedy said.