City may have less support to force sewer taps

Tuesday, Florida Representative Matt Hudson, Chairman of the Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee, recommended cutting the job of Gerald R. Briggs from the 2012-13 House version of the budget.

As chief of the Bureau of Onsite Sewage Programs, Briggs oversees the controversial septic tanks program, which has been caught between opposing forces in recent years.

Florida lawmakers have been trying to enact legislation sympathetic to builders and homeowners who oppose more restrictions on the use of septic tanks.

They say that such requirements are too expensive for many homeowners and place overly burdensome restrictions on growth in rural areas, like St Johns County’s “West Augustine”.

Despite state lawmakers efforts to keep more affordable septic tank systems available to those who could otherwise not afford “tap fees” or “connect fees”, some legislators are saying Briggs is “making up his own laws” by falsely pressuring homeowners to buy advanced systems. Chairman Hudson said. “That is not the role of the executive branch.”

Environmentalists and local governments that want to restrict the use of septic tanks in the future, or that want to require homeowners to abandon septic tanks and connect to local government utility systems, as has been proposed with the West Augustine sewerage system expansion, will lose a friend at the Department of Health if, in fact, Briggs’ job is cut.

In 2009 and 2010, Briggs rose to notoriety among legislators when he wanted to move forward with department requirements for advanced septic systems — before a study was completed that would explore alternatives.

One legislator told reporters that Briggs tried to use the Department of Health to apply requirements for a separation between septic tank drain fields and groundwater — regardless of whether or not they are failing.

In 2010, SB 550 was signed into law requiring septic tank inspections statewide and requiring that all septic tank systems installed or modified after 1983 have a drainfield that is 24 inches above the groundwater table.

This year, HB 999 would eliminate the statewide inspection requirement and amend state law to say that a failure to maintain the 24-inch separation from groundwater does not constitute a system failure.

The Florida Home Builders Association, Associated Industries of Florida, Florida Onsite Wastewater Association and Florida Realtors are among the groups supporting the bill.

Sierra Club Florida opposes the bill because it says the separation is needed for the proper treatment by soils and microbes of liquid waste discharged from septic tanks.

Sixty-seven administrative positions have been eliminated from the Department of Health budget.

Photo credits: © 2012 Historic City News archive photograph

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