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Effort to require septic system inspections upon property transfer in Warren County falls short

Effort to require septic system inspections upon property transfer in Warren County falls short

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LAKE GEORGE — An effort to expand countywide the program in Queensbury requiring the inspection of septic systems before properties can change hands has stalled.

Warren County Minority Leader Claudia Braymer has pushed for the program to protect the water quality of Lake George. Sewage can leach into the lake from malfunctioning septic systems.

Braymer said the Lake George Park Commission has talked about drafting regulations governing septic systems. But first, it is going through a full scientific review of what regulations should be in place. That process won’t lead to any rules for months or years, so Braymer wants the county to take the lead, as it did in advocating for the boat inspection program and the plastic bag ban. The state picked up on both initiatives.

Braymer could not get the proposal moved out of the Environmental Concerns and Real Property Tax Services Committee at its May 25 meeting, however.

Lake George Supervisor Dennis Dickinson, chairman of the committee, was vehemently against the proposal. He argued it would create more work for the county’s Building and Codes Department, which lacks the time or skill set to handle it.

Braymer had included a provision for local towns to opt out of the program.

Dickinson also believes forcing property owners to hire engineers to review their septic system would be a cumbersome process.

“All that takes time and all that time is money,” he said.

Braymer said she has heard from Queensbury officials that about 80% of the septic systems they have checked were failing. Most were simple fixes, however, that did not require hiring an engineer and submitting a remediation plan.

“The proposal is for people to fix their system. It’s not for them necessarily to go out and replace them,” she said.

Dickinson said he believes the county could get into a lot of trouble trying to do this.

Braymer said the program has been working in Queensbury, and Bolton is drafting similar legislation.

Chester Supervisor Craig Leggett said his town has a similar law but lacks the staff to enforce it. He would welcome assistance from the county.

Real estate agents need to be part of the process, because the sellers want to get as rid of their property as quickly and as inexpensively as possible, Leggett said.

Buyers may be unaware an inspection is required. By the time the sale goes through, it can be too late.

This law could make real estate agents be informed about the requirement for an inspection.

Leggett said many lakeside properties are on substandard lots, which means the property owner has to go before a local board for variances.

“It is a complicated process altogether. It’s a costly process for sure and takes a long time. All for a good cause, but there’s a lot of pieces that need to fit in to make sure this is customer-friendly and easy to be administered by the county and the town together,” he said.

Dickinson said the town has spent more than $50,000 on research about areas of concern around the lake.

He pointed out that every one of those septic systems that needed replacing required the property owner to obtain at least one variance.

Braymer said Lake George has conducted wonderful research but not all towns have been able to obtain that type of information. The county needs to make sure people inspect septic systems near water bodies, she said.

“People are transferring their properties, especially right now because of the pandemic. People are buying up properties left and right and they are not checking these septic (systems),” she said. “We may be getting people from a city that don’t even know what a septic system is.”

Dickinson said he would like to see the county hold off on the legislation.

“Most of the waterfront properties, if not all of them, are on pre-existing nonconforming lots and you’re really going to slow down the sale of these properties tremendously. It’s going to be a big deal,” he said.

Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Rachel Seeber suggested holding a board workshop to continue the discussion and get public input.

Braymer also wanted supervisors to discuss the matter further.

“No one is going to take this seriously until we send it to the full board. If there are actual problems, I am more than willing to work on it. No one has brought me anything,” she said.

Still, Braymer could not get a second for her motion. Horicon Supervisor Sylvia Smith wanted time to discuss the matter with her zoning administrator. Thurman Supervisor Susan Shepler and Glens Falls 2nd Ward Supervisor Peter McDevitt were absent.

She did not understand Dickinson’s objections, Braymer said.

“What you’re saying is that it’s too hard to deal with this now. So let’s not do it. We’re just kicking the can down the road for people 20 years from now to fix their systems — maybe. And in the meantime the failed systems are going to continue causing problems for water quality.”

Michael Goot covers politics, crime and courts, Warren County, education and business. Reach him at 518-742-3320 or mgoot@poststar.com.

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