Septic system brouhaha packs Board of Health meeting

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Eddie Wright owns a parcel on Janeiro Road where local officials recently ordered a stop to all septic system work.

Eddie Wright owns a parcel on Janeiro Road where local officials recently ordered a stop to all septic system work.

BAYBORO — A standing-room-only crowd turned out Monday night — many there to support a Janeiro Road property owner, where local health officials recently called a halt to all work on a septic system.

The usual monthly meeting of the 11 volunteer advisors, who are charged with supervising the Pamlico County Board of Health, is typically a low-key affair. Not so this time. The scene was truly exemplary — unlike anything in recent memory!

Someone had worked the phones. Someone had recruited. This surprising turnout had clearly been orchestrated.
And, as it turned out, rightly so, in the minds of most attendees!


First up to speak was Carl Ollison — perhaps the longest serving elected official in Pamlico County — who has been a fixture on the Pamlico County Commission for decades. Clearly concerned about the plight of Eddie Wright, who owns the parcel at 5737 Janeiro Road, Ollison also good-naturedly confessed to soliciting many of the attendees.

“I do feel responsible for having all of these people show up here tonight,” he chuckled.

Then, Ollison got serious.

“The Wright family did everything right. They paid their money. One inspector said yes to their septic system permit, and then another inspector say no. These people don’t have the money for an ‘engineered’ system. And, these people don’t have the money for a lawyer to sue the Health Department. We need to have some justice in this county.”

The heat was on — and questions poured in from an amazing cross section of the county. The Wrights represent a segment of the Pamlico County populace trying to eke out affordable housing on a parcel that has been in their family since the 1940s. At the other end of the spectrum, were representatives of newer, high-end communities — Shine Landing, Nature’s Run, and others — carved from farmland during the fairly recent real estate boom years.

The common bond on this night? Ironically, all of these folks — rich and poor — wanted to know if previously issued ‘Improvement Permits’ for their residential onsite wastewater treatment systems can be suspended — or even revoked?

Kathryn Garcia, active in the local Democratic Party, seemed to speak for many when she asked: “Is there any way the county can correct this situation?”

Debra Khouri, active in the local Republican Party, seemed equally incredulous: “How many of these permits have been given, and then revoked?” she asked.

Douglas Pearsall, president of the local NAACP chapter, suggested that local officials could be discriminating against minorities. “What is the worst case analysis for these people who have got money out there?”

Scott Lenhart, on the job as Director of the Health Department for just over 18 months, has warned of looming problems, shoddy paperwork, and other shortcomings in the Environmental Health section of his agency. Insiders familiar with the machinations of the agency understand that this mess did not happen on Lenhart’s watch.

Nevertheless, many in the community have been trying to shoot the messenger who uncovered bad news!
To his credit, Lenhart concedes that he is steering the ship at this point. And, apparently, he now owns the predicament.

“We are trying to correct a lot of these mistakes,” explained Lenhart. “In fact, 99 percent of the time we can find a solution. Since I have been here, we have only had one ‘dead’ lot. I know some of these engineered systems can be quite costly.”

Russ Richard, owner of Nature’s Run subdivision on Kershaw Road, said he voluntarily approached the Health Department to, hopefully, head off any potential problems with his existing septic improvement permits. He did more than hint that the countywide situation will be getting worse, before it improves.

“Things are going to get nasty,” predicted Richard. “If there are no lawsuits now, I suspect that there are going to be some soon!”

Source: N.C. State University Cooperative Extension

Septic ‘to do’ List

1) Application to local Health Department
for a soil evaluation

2) If land passes soil evaluation,
Improvement Permit is issued,
commonly referred to as ‘IP”

3) Application for Construction Authorization,
commonly referred to as ‘CA’ This is the period
of time that if site modifications are needed for
the system — for example, if a mound system
is specified as part of the Improvement Permit,
the mound must be built (just the mound, not
installing drain-lines) before a Construction
Authorization is issued. After the CA is issued,
the system can be installed. A CA is needed
before getting a Building Permit
and before the system is installed.

4) Inspection of the installed system to determine
if all requirements have been met — then the
Operation Permit is issued, commonly referred to as ‘OP’
If the septic system is not installed correctly, the OP is denied.
The OP is needed for permanent power, and a
Certificate of Occupancy from the Building Inspections
Department, commonly referred to as a ‘CO’