DOBSON — Despite a property owner’s appeal, the county will move forward in fixing a septic system which has been deemed faulty.
The Surry County Board of Commissioners had recessed from its Oct. 17 meeting and re-convened Wednesday afternoon for a hearing regarding a septic system on Toast Road.
County Attorney Ed Woltz opened the hearing by outlining the issue at hand. Commissioners were to decide if a septic system located at 158 Toast Road, a property owned by Cynthia McMillian, was dangerous or prejudicial to the public health.
Woltz told the board one of McMillian’s neighbors, Van Combs, has been raising concerns about the system since 2009.
Combs has a son with significant health problems living on his property, and he was concerned a situation in which raw sewage was being carried by a natural drainage ditch onto his property could adversely affect his son’s health.
Woltz noted on July 18, the board had declared there was a problem, and a verbal deal with McMillian had been struck. The county would complete repairs to the septic system, and a lien would be placed on the property until McMillian had paid the county back. The cost for the repairs will be about $5,700.
However, Woltz noted when health department officials and a contractor showed up at McMillian’s residence they were asked to leave.
At the Oct. 17 meeting commissioners opted to move forward with abating the nuisance pursuant to North Carolina statute.
Woltz said McMillian was served with the board’s intent to act the day following the meeting. She filed a written appeal on Tuesday.
McMillian’s appeal states Combs has bullied her, and she contended there is no issue with the system, stating three times contractors had told her the septic system was fine.
Woltz conducted the hearing and called health department site field supervisor Dr. Steve Simandle to testify.
Simandle testified he has been dealing with the situation at McMillian’s residence since the problem first surfaced. In short, the system does not comply with public health laws, and Simandle and others were able to view sewage on the surface of the property.
Simandle even said McMillian was jailed in 2012 for a violation of criminal public health laws.
McMillian, who was in attendance at the meeting, noted she believed her 24-hour jail sentence amounted to an admission the system wasn’t really a problem.
Woltz explained the situation at 158 Toast Road has not been continuous, as the home has been vacant at times throughout the past seven years.
Simandle said, however, discharge has been observable at the surface of the property since February of 2016. A property owner has 30 days to correct such an infraction.
He noted the problem is dangerous or prejudicial to public health, and it won’t go away on its own.
McMillian said she believed Simandle’s decision was related to a tile which was protruding from the ground, an apparent side effect of some grading completed at the property.
“I would not live there if there was a problem,” said McMillian, who also stated Combs has wanted her property.
Simandle said the surface discharge he saw was in a different area of the yard.
McMillian pleaded with commissioners, hoping they could seek a different, less expensive means of fixing the problem. However, county officials said that’s simply not possible.
Johnny Easter, who works with Simandle, told board members the situation is the result of the soil into which the system discharges waste. The soil is not such that it can treat the waste properly, and surface water has led to further issues.
Easter said a site on McMillian’s property in which soil conditions will handle the system was located. However, a pump must be used to get the waste there, as it is uphill, which helped lead to the steep price tag.
McMillian said she appreciated the county’s offer to front the money, but she fears she won’t have the extra money to pay it back. She’s already paying on back taxes, and she doesn’t want to lose her home.
“Just to be clear, the only issue here is raw sewage on the ground,” said Commissioner Larry Phillips prior to making a motion to abate the hazard. “We are charged with protecting the public health, and above-ground sewage is a hazard.”
Phillips said the evidence before him was pretty clear, with the county’s experts declaring the problem a hazard.
Easter said he and others had “left no stone unturned” in their efforts to find another, possibly cheaper means of fixing the issue.
Woltz told McMillian the county’s tax office had been working with her in regard to the back taxes, and it would do the same for the septic system repairs as long as a good faith effort was made to pay.
“This is a regrettable situation,” said Commissioner Van Tucker. “The soil there doesn’t perk well, and we’ve exhausted every possible avenue.”
“I am very sorry, but I will try to ensure the county works with you,” said Tucker, directing his remarks at McMillian. “I just don’t see any other possible solution.”
Andy is a staff writer and may be reached at 415-4698.