County creates catch-22 for septic system repair

Regarding andquot;Environmentalist fined for pollutingandquot; (May 23), I am being fined $15 a day, but I am not polluting. On the one hand, the article did not fully tell my side of the story. On the other hand, it did expose how government officials use their position of power for reprisal.

I bought a home 1.5 miles away from Lake Earl in 2003 and was assured by the real estate agent and sellers that the septic system functioned just fine. The septic system functioned fine during spring, summer, and fall. But it could not handle heavy winter rains and the use of one large family (five children and grandparents).

When I learned of the problem in 2005, I obtained a permit from the county Health Department to fix it. They granted me a permit to do the same fix as my neighbor had just completed. I hired a contractor, and he began to install the new system. But the county planning/engineering department stopped him midway and did not allow me the exact fix my neighbor had just installed. I took alternative remedial action by pumping the septic system, clearing the leach lines, sealing the leaking septic system lids and discussing water conservation methods with the residing family. The remedial action failed. I received an abatement notice mid February 2006.

Impossible tasks

Many hurdles have been jumped since, including: evicting the tenants at my own expense ($2,500) in just two weeks time by March 1, 2006, and pumping the septic system immediately thereafter. The home has remained vacant since, and so there is obviously no public nuisance.

My neighbor had a similar septic failure, and he was simply told to leave the dwelling vacant until it was fixed (which took more than three years). He was not given an impossible time table. In April 2006, the supervisors told me to fix my system by August 2006, and then their engineering department required proof that the system would function during winter before approving a permit. That requires wet weather testing during December to March. They fined me more than $800 because I could not accomplish this impossible task immediately. They entrapped me. To imply that I dragged my feet on abating a septic problem is false.

I have sufficiently responded to the supervisors' demands; I now have a new approved engineered plan in place, and workmen are hired to accomplish the work. Grading season began on May 1, and I can begin fixing the septic system. Yet, I am being fined daily, as of May 1, indefinitely. I am entrapped again.

I recognize their action as reprisal for the consistent and effective efforts I have made to challenge county projects that jeopardize the vitality and beauty of our natural resources. I stand on my devoted record of concern for the environment and this community, not always well accepted by county officials.


For Supervisor Gerry Hemmingsen to say I have andquot;blatant disregard for the rules, the environment and the communityandquot; is untrue and demonstrates how officials use their position for retaliation. For Supervisor Mike Sullivan to infer I am andquot;an absentee landlord who's lost touch with realityandquot; could not be farther from the truth. I see these comments, along with erroneous statements from Dave Mason, and special requirements by the county Planning Department, as accumulating ammunition to punish and intimidate my community activism.

The county supervisors and Planning Department have the right not to like what I do but not to use the power of their public positions to unduly punish me because of it.

Eileen Cooper is a Del Norte County landowner,