Brouhaha over septic permits explained
Board of Health briefed on potential problems
BAYBORO – Scott Lenhart, Director of the Pamlico County Health Department, told his advisory board of directors Monday night that hundreds of subdivided – but still undeveloped – residential lots likely have discrepancies and inadequate documentation for previously issued septic permits.
He said some of the questionable evaluations go back more than a decade, when the frantic push to subdivide, market and sell waterfront property throughout the county was at a crescendo.
Septic tanks, officially labeled ‘on-site wastewater systems,’ are crucial to residential development in rural Pamlico County, where less than half the households have access to hookups with a ‘municipal-type’ sewer utility.
“I have uncovered some things that are serious issues,” said Lenhart, “that put this county at the risks of liability for years to come.” However, Lenhart added, “this department intends to keep these issues from escalating into lawsuits.”
Lenhart, a no-nonsense advocate for the merits of county-run Health Departments, assumed the reins of the local department exactly one year ago. One of his first public proclamations was the issuance of a ‘report card’ for the department. The detailed narrative highlighted a number of deficiencies.
“This health department gets a D-minus at best,” said Lenhart, back in February of this year.
Observers familiar with the department give Lenhart credit for recent improvements. They point to better employee morale, the hire of a part-time pediatrician, enhanced cooperation with HOPE Clinic (which offers free health care), and more community outreach efforts. However, Lenhart conceded to his board Monday night that much work remains to be done.
He said the recent re-hire of Melanie Campen – a former Environmental Health Specialist who left the department two years ago for a more lucrative post in Pender County – is a big step toward resurrecting public confidence in how septic permits are approved and issued. In recent months, Campen has acted as a licensed contractor – returning to the county on Saturdays to handle environmental health matters. She assumes her post Nov. 28, and may even move into her former office – complete with familiar desk and chair.
“We no longer have a six to eight week backlog,” explained Lenhart. “We interviewed three candidates for the opening, but the other two did not have the experience that Melanie has.”
Potential problems with existing septic permits surfaced during the Nov. 6 meeting of the Pamlico County Board of Commissioners. Developer Roger Evans secured time on the agenda for his remarks, in which he lambasted the Health Department for threatening to revoke or suspend what Evans considered to be a valid permit on a building lot in the Dawson Creek subdivision.
A week later on Monday night, Nov. 13, Lenhart told his board of directors that he was not called upon during the County Commission meeting. He said it was a missed opportunity to explain what the department faces, and to respond to the developer’s allegations.
“I need to get my side of things out,” said Lenhart. “Some of these Environmental Health issues are going to be around for a long time to come.”