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Bolton passes septic system inspection law

Bolton passes septic system inspection law


BOLTON — The Town Board passed a septic system inspection law Tuesday night, joining Queensbury in seeking to protect human health and the quality of Lake George, its tributaries and the groundwater.

The law will go into effect on Sept. 1, requiring inspections of septic systems upon a property sale or transfer. Unlike Queensbury’s law, which passed last year, the Bolton law encompasses all properties in the town and not just lakefront.

“I was very pleased that everyone supported the law,” said Supervisor Ron Conover, following the meeting.

While no one directly spoke against the law during the public hearing, some members of the public were concerned about the cost of inspections. Others from the real estate community were concerned about the hassle it might cause in some transfer situations.

Sally Pepper, a local real estate agent, said her office had 380 transfers of ownership last year alone. The transfers included many different situations, from refinancing to adding or deleting a spouse from a deed.

Some of the sales, she added, happen in weeks. She just had a $1.5 million cash sale happen in three weeks, Pepper said. She worried inspections could bog the process down.

“There’s no way all this can be done in a timely manner,” she said.

Willie Bea Macdonald, another local real estate agent, said she has heard some concerning stories out of Queensbury, where residents had to dig up their driveway to take a look at their septic tank. She also was concerned about the cost of inspections and how summer cabins would be handled in the law.

“I’m not against having this done,” she said. “A lot of people are so far from the water and it seems a little overbearing. You need to take into consideration cost and how far-reaching this is for the town.”

A third agent, Karen O’Carroll, also said the town should consider the cost of inspections but commended the board for making the law townwide.

“I wish Queensbury had done that, too,” O’Carroll said. “I think it’s important for everyone in the community to participate in it.”

Town Attorney Michael Muller addressed some of the concerns about the law, which has gone through nearly 14 versions.

“I would take it to bed at night and put it under my pillow,” he joked.

Muller said the law isn’t as aggressive as Queensbury’s, in that a camera inspection of the tank could possibly suffice, although the inspection does require the distribution box to be opened. Refinancing does not trigger the law, he added, but a new owner would.

Inspections are good for three years. The ordinance also allows for pre-existing, non-conforming systems to remain if they pass inspection. If it’s failing, the town will require that the system be updated.

Muller mulled over a suggested exemption for inter-family transfers of property, but ultimately wrote the law to not exempt them.

“If the concern of the town is to make sure the septic systems are working, why exempt those?” he said.

The cost of the inspection will be the burden of the seller, unless the parties work out another arrangement.

Zandy Gabriels, former town supervisor, said the local law was “a long time coming.”

While some said the law will help limit nutrient-loading in Lake George and protect the water quality, Gabriels said it’s important not to lose sight of the human health impact. Lake George is a drinking water source, and the law will help protect people from pathogens, Gabriels said.

Pat Dowd, communications director for the Lake George Association, also commended the board for the local law. Citing a 2010 study the association completed, Dowd said Bolton has the largest number of housing units in the watershed at 2,500, with 1,790 septic systems.

A local law like this one could decrease the likelihood of harmful algal blooms springing up on Lake George. Dowd added “it’s the right thing to do for the lake.”

Conover said Waterkeeper Chris Navitsky and The Fund for Lake George wrote in support of the law. The town is looking to partner with other municipalities and the Lake George Association for a septic system inspector training, he said. Queensbury has building inspectors with the training, but Bolton does not, so the town plans to compile a list of state-certified inspectors.

Deputy Supervisor Susan Wilson said the town reviewed ordinances from all over the country to come up with the law. Board members didn’t want to make it overly burdensome, but, Wilson added, “we’re late to the table in doing something.”

Conover said the law has been at least two years in the making, as it was part of the town’s Local Waterfront Revitalization Plan.

Wilson and Conover said they would meet with local real estate agents about creating brochures for property owners about the law. The board felt the law could be enacted by Sept. 1, giving the business community time to prepare those materials.

Residents with questions about the local law may contact the town Planning Office at 518-644-2893 or

Reporter Gwendolyn Craig can be reached at (518) 742-3238 or Follow her on Twitter @gwendolynnn1.


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