QUEENSBURY — Septic tanks near Queensbury’s lakes will have to “function properly” under a proposed inspection law, but a list of ways in which they would have to comply with current laws has been removed from the draft legislation.
The board will hold a public hearing on the law on Oct. 15 at 7 p.m. at the Queensbury Activities Center.
Supervisor John Strough said he wanted the law to clearly say that the septic systems do not have to comply with technicalities, such as how far the systems must be from houses and wells. None of those rules will apply, he said.
“It’s not to make sure it’s in compliance. It probably isn’t in compliance with all state and local codes,” Strough said. “The intent of the law is to inspect your septic system to make sure it’s functional.”
That was a big relief for Glen Lake residents, said Paul Derby, president of the board of the Glen Lake Protective Association.
Instead of meeting rules that were developed years and sometimes decades after the systems were built, the system simply has to work. The tank also must be at least 250 gallons, and nonfunctional units won’t be accepted. But they won’t be denied based on technicalities — they’ll be denied if they leak. The goal is to keep sewage out of the lakes.
Examples of nonfunctional units include cesspools and metal tanks.
“A cesspool is not a functioning septic system. A metal tank would not be a functional septic tank. There could be one tank left on earth that hasn’t been rusted out but they haven’t been used in 40 years,” said board member Tony Metivier, when contacted after the meeting.
But he stressed that other rules, developed to make septic systems safer and more efficient, won’t be applied.
“It doesn’t have to be conforming, it just has to be functional,” he said.
The previous draft of the law had referenced several code books, including a 235-page handbook from DEC governing residential septic systems. That book mandated, for example, that the tank access cover be at surface level or within 12 inches of it.
Residents saw the removal of the code books reference as a good thing. It reassured them that inspectors might actually look at functionality and not get hung up on whether the unit was too close to a neighbor’s house.
But board members worried that the removal would make it harder for town officials to know how to inspect a septic system.
“What kind of standard will be used to determine if it’s functioning properly?” asked board member Jen Switzer.
Strough noted that the inspectors will get special training before they start looking at septic systems. That training will give them the standards they need, he said.
Even Town Attorney Mark Schachner questioned the decision.
“There has to be some criteria,” he said.
In the end, the law was changed to read that when inspectors are satisfied with the septic system, it would be considered to be functioning properly.
Metivier said he was willing to accept the determination of properly trained inspectors. If the law is passed, the town’s building inspectors will get trained first and will handle inspections for a period of time. Later, septic haulers may also be allowed to get certified as inspectors.
The law would require inspections every time a waterfront residential property is sold, even if no money is exchanged. The only exception would be if the system had passed an inspection in the previous three years.