On May 4, the Taney County Commission approved an agreement between the Taney County Health Department and the county regarding the investigation of malfunctioning wastewater treatment systems.
The approved agreement transfers the responsibility of providing onsite wastewater complaint investigation services, as outlined in the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services Operation Guidelines, from the Taney County Health Department to the Taney County Environmental Services Department.
The need for the transfer of authority was brought to the attention of Taney County Environmental Services Department Program Director John Soutee about a year ago.
Soutee explained that he was investigating a failing onsite system, but he wasn’t getting anywhere with the property owners. As a result, he was preparing a packet of information to present to the Taney County prosecuting attorney. Within the packet, Soutee said he was planning to include information on what gives the county authority to handle complaint investigations.
“I looked at the contract that we have with the state Department of Health and Senior Services,” Soutee said.
“And I went through page one, two, three and I wasn’t seeing anything in the item that says anything about complaint investigation,” said Soutee. “I called the office in Jefferson City with the state department of health and the office of the onsite wastewater disposal system program and talked to the director.
“I said, ‘I got this situation down here. We’ve got our agreement, but I don’t see anything in this agreement about and that discussing complaint investigations as one of these duties’ and he said, ‘Well, it’s not in there.’”
Soutee said that he was then informed that the local health department was the actual authority behind complaint investigations and that, in this instance, that authority would be with the Taney County Health Department. Soutee said he immediately reached out to TCHD Director Lisa Marshall.
“Lisa, she explained to me that they had not done this before, because the county had always handled it. They really hadn’t looked at that side of the discussion yet where the authority really lies,” said Soutee. “She stated that she would like to keep it that way and to have the county continue to do this, since we do the onsite septic tank permitting and we do all of that work that’s involved in the septic tank program anyway.”
Soutee added that conversation led to further discussions with the DHSS, which resulted in the determination that an agreement between the county and the health department could be drafted to transfer the authority from the health department to the county.
Following the commissioners’ approval of the agreement, Soutee said the county now has the undisputed authority to investigate onsite septic system failures.
“As I explained (at the May 4 commission meeting), that would primarily be targeted towards properties of three acres or less,” said Soutee. “Unless there is evidence of raw waste water discharge without any form of treatment whatsoever.
“The state says that if it can be proven by a scientific method that it’s detrimental to the ground or surface waters of the state then we can do enforcement action, even if it’s over three acres.”
In order to launch an investigation, Soutee explained that they would need to receive a valid complaint from an adjoining property owner or an affected party.
He added that an investigation could also be opened if they receive a tip that leads to probable cause that there may be a failing system.
Once a complaint has been received and the investigation has determined a failure septic system, Soutee said he would then visit with the property owner.
“Discuss with them what the issue is and let them know what the steps are, which, No. 1 is, I’m going to come back to the office and I’m going to write a notice of violation,” said Soutee. “It’s not meant to be a bad thing, but it’s basically a written notification that the violation does exist on the property, and I include the state statutes that clarify that.
“I give them ‘X’ number of days, depending on the seriousness of the violation. I could do a 30-day or a 45-day notice of violation for them to mitigate the issue.”
Soutee said that, if the property owner does not mitigate the issue by the end of that violation time frame, he then returns to visit with the property owner.
“I give them a 10-day notice that we’re going to have to figure this out and a solution is going to have to be made here or I have to turn this over to the prosecuting attorney’s office,” he said. “Then when it goes over to their arena, then it’s up to the prosecuting attorney on how they want to proceed with that.”
Soutee said he also wanted to remind county residents that they are still accepting applications for the county’s free septic tank pump-out program.
Additional details on that program and the Taney County Environmental Services Department can be found by visiting taneycounty.org.