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Reminders about the program were re-sent on bright yellow letterhead.
Friday, May 17, 2013
If you own waterfront property in Franklin County, you likely have received a bright-yellow reminder notice from the county’s Planning and Community Development Department about its Mandatory Septic Tank Pump-out Program.
“Our records further indicate that this property contains an on-site sewage treatment system, which may consist of a septic tank and septic drainfield, and that such system is located within five hundred (500) feet of the shoreline of Smith Mountain Lake,” the notice state s.
“Sec. 17-8 of the Franklin County Code requires that all on-site septic systems located within five hundred (500) feet of the shoreline of Smith Mountain Lake be inspected and/or pumped every five (5) years.”
Neil Holthouser, department director since 2008, said the county started sending postcard reminders to property owners after the first of the year.
“Those postcards were not terribly effective,” said Holthouser. “The letter [that was sent recently] looks more like a bill or a utility bill would look. People are more likely to read this and heed the notice.”
Whether it’s up to property owners to know when their five years are up, or if it’s the county’s responsibility, is debatable. Regardless, said Holthouser, the ordinance must be followed; failure to comply could result in a property owner paying a $150 fine, plus the cost of having the septic tank pumped.
The county’s pump-out program went into effect in July 2006. Franklin is the only county that surrounds the lake that has a formal program.
Once the program was approved by the board of supervisors, county residents began getting letters.
“This mandatory septic tank pump-out program is aimed at reducing the risk of lake contamination from malfunctioning or neglected septic systems,” the letter state s.
At that time, the county had estimated there were about 4,000 septic systems located within 500 feet of the lake’s shoreline. The letter stated that property owners must pay a $35 registration fee and supply documentation of their last septic system pump-out.
When the registrations were returned, they were entered into a database that tracked when the pump-outs occurred. The money from the registration fees was to have been used to send out the postcard reminders when the five-year cycle was approaching.
Because response to the postcards was limited, the reminders were resent on the bright-yellow letterhead. Since the nearly 1,400 letters were mailed in April, response has been brisk, said Holthouser.
“We’re hearing from people who are concerned [after receiving the letter] because they didn’t know about the rule,” he said. “The reason we’re doing this is to protect the homeowner and protect the water quality of the lake.”
Many homeowners are contacting the county saying that septic pump-out companies are back-logged, according to Holthouser.
“We’re certainly going to work with people to allow them enough time to get it done,” said Holthouser. “A lot of people are complying.”
Once a septic tank has been pumped, which costs about $250 for a 1,000-gallon tank, the property owner must return a copy of the receipt for the pump-out, along with the coupon at the bottom of the reminder.
The county has devoted a page on its website to help answer property owners’ questions about the program : www.franklincountyva.gov/planning-comm/resources/pump-out-septic-program.
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