Tornado-damaged septic tanks raise safety concerns

July 10, 2013

Environmental Health Director James McAusland said he has taken action regarding three damaged septic tanks that were left open in Rancho Brazos after the May 15 tornado.

McAusland said he wants to make sure that no one falls into the septic tanks, and stated that he also wants to prevent any other related public health or safety concern, such as the breeding of mosquitoes. The insects can spread diseases.

“We went out today and we found where there were three septic tanks that had been marked off, and we walked the general area of what we call Ground Zero,” McAusland said last week before the Fourth of July holiday.

COUNTY NOT RESPONSIBLE

“It was my understanding that once the emergency declaration was over, the county could not go on private property and physically do anything at that point,” he added.

County commissioners had previously stated that there was little the county could do on private property once the emergency declaration had been lifted.

McAusland said that letters have been sent to the property owners instructing them that they are required to correct their septic tank problems. He said that county officials know where two of the property owners are, but they are not sure about the other.

“The third, we have no idea,” he said. “We are sending (the letters) to the address on the tax rolls. We’re hoping that those are properly forwarded.”

McAusland said that a 12-inch lid was missing from one of the septic tanks, and that it would be “maybe a twenty or thirty dollar fix.” The other two tanks looked like they had collapsed, he said.

“We don’t want people falling in those,” McAusland stated. “They usually hold about 30 inches of water, and if a small child fell in it, it could be a real problem.”

PENALTIES FOR PROPERTY OWNERS

McAusland said that the property owners can be fined – or worse.

“It could be fines all the way up to an injunction,” he said. “If they just walk away and they ignore our letters, we could still fine them and issue an injunction, meaning that a warrant could be issued for them.

“We’ll work with them as much as we can, But once they’re aware of it, we expect them to act and fix the problem.”

Repairs could be “a couple hundred bucks,” the environmental health director said, or maybe between $500 and $1,000 if they hire a contractor.

“We’re not out to punish them,” McAusland said. “If they don’t have the money, they can have the tanks pumped and just fill them in with dirt. That’s probably the cheapest route – a hundred bucks or two hundred bucks.”

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