Tuesday, October 21, 2014

With the goal of providing more responsive local service, Clatsop County is taking over the onsite septic system inspection program from the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality in June.

The county will administer inspection and permitting services for residential and small commercial onsite wastewater installations as well as handle complaints regarding septic systems beginning June 24. DEQ will close its branch office in Warrenton on June 18.

On Wednesday, May 28 the county board of commissioners approved an ordinance adopting the state's onsite wastewater regulations – the board is scheduled to adopt a formal county-DEQ agreement and fee schedule on June 11.

Program services will be offered by the following county departments:

Permits and complaints – Community Development Department, 800 Exchange, Suite 100, Astoria, (503) 325-8611. Office hours are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Inspections and technical information – Public Health Department, 820 Exchange, Suite 100, Astoria, (503) 325-8500. Office hours for the septic system program are 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. Monday through Thursday.

The transfer is the culmination of two years of discussion and planning by county and state officials to find the best arrangement to protect public health and the environment by ensuring the proper siting, installation and operation of onsite septic systems.

"Having the program based again in Clatsop County will be a benefit to local builders, property owners and real estate professionals, because having regular and timely access to permits and inspections will make their efforts more fruitful," Public Health Director Brian Mahoney said. "This also puts related public and environmental health issues back into local hands, to protect health, water and soil."

Oregon DEQ has administered the onsite wastewater permitting program locally for more than 20 years. But since 2006 the level of local development activity has dropped significantly and the number of septic system permits issued has fallen by more than half. As the program is funded solely by permit and service fees, the decline in funding meant delays in site assessments, issuance of permits and responses to complaints. The agency's Warrenton field office reduced its hours of service, and a DEQ technical/field inspector traveled from Pendleton twice a month to provide services locally.

In 2012 county officials began talks with DEQ on a possible transfer of the septic program to county control. At the same time, a state efficiency task force was evaluating the program, and concluded that DEQ should end its direct service to counties.

The county will enforce existing state rules governing onsite wastewater systems, and in the short term fees will remain at their current level. In February the board of commissioners approved a one-time $15,000 appropriation for start-up funding, but the program is expected to operate exclusively with service fee revenue.

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