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County considers septic waiver PDF Print E-mail

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By ROBERT PIERCE
• Leader & Times



An owner of land in north Liberal is still looking for answers after Seward County commissioners denied her request for waiver of regulations that would require her to tie into the city sewer.

The land in question is at 650 E. Tucker, inside the city limits and is currently served by a septic system. Seward County Planning and Zoning Administrator Marcie Weatherly said the property, owned by Judith Stuckey, is in a flood hazard area and within 400 feet of public sewer.

Under the county’s sanitation codes, Weatherly said, homeowners that close to public sewer are required to hook up to city water.

“The owner was sent a letter three years ago,” she said. “The sanitation code gives three years from the time the sewer is available to connect. As it turns out, the sewer became available in 2005. It is in a 30-foot easement directly adjacent to this property. We became aware of it and sent a letter three years ago.”

Weatherly said codes from the City of Liberal likewise do not allow septic tanks inside city limits.

“Even if you guys waive that, they may get a letter from the city,” she said.

Having the property in a flood hazard area could mean, Weatherly said, a septic system not working correctly should flooding conditions exist.

“There’s also a private water well on the property, and it would be a potential source of contamination, which could affect everyone,” she said.

When the property was originally built, it was considered county property, and commissioner C.J. Wettstein said because the septic tank is still in working order, Stuckey should not be required to tie into city water.

“As far as I’m concerned as long as the system’s working properly, I don’t think we should force them to hook into the city sewer,”  he said.

Wettstein made the motion to waive the regulation, and commissioner Randy Malin seconded the motion. A discussion of about 20 minutes then ensued before action was taken on that motion.

Malin had questioned why if Stuckey had been sent a letter three years ago was she just now asking for a waiver. Stuckey came forward to respond.

“I was under an understanding that we are grandfathered in so that we couldn’t be required to make changes, and the septic system has worked fine since we have owned that property,” she said. 

Stuckey said she had looked into connecting to city sewer about a year ago, and she received an estimate from Tatro Plumbing of Ulysses to see how much it would cost to connect to city water.

“I must’ve misunderstood what they said, but at that time, what I had heard them say was that it would cost me about $90,000 instead of the $9,600,” she said. “In talking with Tatro, I understand there is a main sewer line just to the east of the property. I’d always been told that it had to go to the south of our property, have to go all the way across the property to connect to the city line at that point.”

Stuckey said she was told connections to sewer would have to be done to the south end of the property, as going east would be too deep for a line.

“It’s about 500 feet from the house to where we would have to go to connect in,” she said.

Commission chairman Nathan McCaffrey questioned why the county was handling the matter if the property is located in city limits.

“If you’re saying she’s in the city, why is the county even messing with this?” he said.

Weatherly said new city limits determined in 2005 were not correctly laid out on county maps.

“At the time we started it three years ago, we didn’t know it was in the city limits,” she said.

Weatherly said if commissioners were to accept the waiver, Liberal city commissioners could still take their own action on the matter.

“The possibility exists that if you issue a waiver and tell her ‘You’re fine, we’re waiving the county sanitation code. You don’t have to connect,’ it’s possible the city will send her a letter and say, ‘You’re in the city limits. You have a septic tank. That’s not allowed. You have to connect,’” she said.

Weatherly said allowances in the sanitation code for waivers exist to keep homeowners from having to continuously adjust to new regulations.

“My belief is the intention of that is that you have an existing septic system and it’s functioning and we change the rules of what’s required, we aren’t going to make you change your system,” she said. 

McCaffrey agreed with Weatherly, saying the city could take its own action.

“If the city decides this is in their property, they can do whatever they want regardless of what our board says,” he said.

Wettstein continued to argue for the waiver of the code, saying the septic tank should not be removed.

“I always say if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” he said. “It’s not broke yet, so I don’t see that we need to make them spend the money to hook into it as a county.”

Commissioner Ada Linenbroker disagreed, arguing the city should have jurisdiction over the matter.

“I don’t think we should waive it,” she said. “If this is actually property that’s in the city, I think it should be up to the city to decide.”

At this point, county counsel Dan Diepenbrock offered the commission a few options in how to handle the waiver.

“I would suggest that you either pass this to a future meeting and have a chance to sort out are they in the city or not,” he said. “Let me have a chance to look at this. I wasn’t asked to review this. There’s a lot of things to take into consideration here.”

Diepenbrock said the commission could also act on the motion still on the floor, adding if it was passed, county leaders would simply have to deal with the effects of approving the waiver.

“If the motion doesn’t get adopted, I guess you can do nothing, or someone could make a motion to deny the waiver,” he said. “You’d be taking the position that the county is denying the waiver, and let the chips fall where they may. Pass it, let’s get it figured out, and move forward with the motion.”

McCaffrey said he would like the jurisdictional matters to be solved.

“I would prefer to know whether you’re actually in the city or the county,” he said. “If you’re actually in the city, whatever action we take here today could be meaningless.”

The commission then voted 3-2, with McCaffrey, Malin and commissioner Jack Jacob voting to deny the waiver, with Malin and Wettstein voting to approve the waiver.

County administrator April Warden said she would work with Stuckey, who currently resides in Moscow, to get issues worked out.

“I think we can get some of this information that’s in question straightened out,” Warden said. “Then we could be in contact with you if you wouldn’t mind leaving a contact number for me.”

The commission’s business on Stuckey’s property was not quite done yet, though. Weatherly said Stuckey initially had 90 days to connect to sewer from the time a letter was sent in April.

“Initially, the deadline she was given was Sept. 1,” Weatherly said. “Obviously, that will not happen. Would you like to give her a different deadline?”

McCaffrey said he also would like the deadline extended.

“I want to get this straightened out so she knows who she has to be dealing with, so I would like to give her a different deadline so she’s not operating under that Sept. 1 deadline,” he said.

Jacob made the motion to extend the deadline to 90 days past the date the jurisdictional issues get resolved as to whether Stuckey’s property is in the city or the county.

“For some reason that drags on, I don’t want her time frame cut into because we’re still trying to figure it out,” he said.

Commissioners voted 4-1, with Wettstein against, to approve that extension. Wettstein said he voted against the extension because he still felt the waiver should have been passed.

 

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The High Plains Daily Leader and Southwest Daily Times are published Sunday through Friday and reaches homes throughout the Liberal, Kansas retail trade zone. The Leader & Times is the official newspaper of Seward County, USD No. 480, USD No. 483 and the cities of Liberal and Kismet.  The Leader & Times is a member of the Liberal Chamber of Commerce, the Kansas Press Association and the Associated Press.

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