Teller Commissioners slam the door on septic operators – Rick Langenberg


The Teller County government should stay out of the septic regulation business, especially when it comes to new real estate sales in rural areas.

But industry experts warn that this action could have dire consequences in certain parts of Teller, where failing systems prevail, causing a serious health menace.

By a close 2-1 vote, the Teller County commissioners last week waved the “Buyer Beware” banner and approved a new measure that axed a current rule that requires a property owner to have a satisfactory individual septic system prior to any sale or transfer of property. Under this requirement, which only went into effect a month ago, homeowners, in areas where no central sewer service exists, would have to pass a septic inspection in order for a potential sale to move forward. This is part of new regulations that are getting approved in many counties and may become a state law within the near future.

The decision followed a lengthy debate between Commissioner Dave Paul, who works in the mortgage and insurance industry, and a group of septic contractors and real restate representatives. Paul maintained that the county was asked to accept a rule that had no teeth and it had limited resources to back the measure up. “What is the role of government?” asked Paul, who made the comparison to banning someone from having sugar drinks or eating French fries

The commissioner argued that it’s up to real estate representatives and insurance and title experts to protect buyers and sellers, rather than the government. “The county does not have an inspector (for septic reviews),” added Paul. His opposition to the rule was supported by Commission Chairman Marc Dettenrieder, who believes the county should wait until this becomes a state law prior to adopting the new regulations.

However, Commissioner Norm Steen cast the dissenting tally, arguing that government should try to protect individuals from a potential health risk.

The septic contractors and real estate representatives, who are part of a task force formed to develop the new septic-sales rules, argued that the area’s quality of life and public health was at stake with this verdict. They made an extensive pitch to the commissioners to give the new system a chance.

“It upholds the quality of life,” said real estate broker and task force leader Amy Nieman, who compared the new rule with the ability to provide “a qualified set of eyes,” for potential buyers. “I see this (the county proposal to ax the rule) as a step backwards. I see the state adopting statewide standards. I would like to be ahead of the game.”

The task force representatives argued that the rule would save future buyers thousands of dollars and save the county from having to endure legal battles over faulty septic systems. “I have plenty of people crying on my shoulder,” said Chris Bateman, a septic inspector. He told the commissioners that many people from the city buy lots in rural Teller and have little knowledge about septic systems and then are forced to abandon their homes and pay mucho bucks to fix the problem. Nieman agreed and noted that Teller has many subdivisions with small lots, served by individual septic systems. “They are notorious for failing. This is a public safety issue,” added Nieman.

In addition, the group stated that the new procedures, requiring mandatory inspections prior to an official transfer of property, had just started, so give it a chance.

But Paul continued to challenge the septic contractors and made it clear he philosophically differed with the group’s proposal. He agreed with their concerns about faulty septic systems, but didn’t believe that more government regulations were the answer. “We have limited resources,” said the commissioner.

Moreover, he contended that a positive septic review may give property owners a false sense of security. Currently, these inspects are done by 40 or so individual septic contractors in the county.

But the task force group asked what the county had to lose by accepting the new onsite wastewater treatment system regulations and the system the group put in place. “What is the motivation? Where is this coming from?” questioned septic operator Tim Galvin, in challenging the new anti-government measure that axed the recommendations of the task force.

Unlike Paul, the other two commissioners-Steen and Dettenrieder, took more of a back seat role and didn’t try to challenge the views of the septic contractors that much. Following extensive debate, the majority of the commissioners believed that this rule requiring inspections prior to sales will probably be implemented in the future, but they don’t believe the time is right for Teller now. “I don’t want to do this half-baked,” concluded Paul.