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Battle over septic waste continues
White County residents appeal environmental divisions permit
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Sam Liscar is not happy that the state EPD granted a permit for a septic waste disposal site on the other side of the trees and down a hill near his property in White County. - photo by Tom Reed

Sam Liscar says the ongoing controversy over a proposed septic disposal site near his home northwest of Cleveland is a perfect illustration of why White County needs zoning.

Liscar, an Air Force retiree, bought his property in White County in 1995 and built his house in 1999. He figures he has about $300,000 worth of property.

Now he’s worried its value will plummet if a septic tank pumping business starts spraying treated human waste on 6 acres of land off Paradise Valley Road.

“I’m upwind of him,” Liscar says of the owner of the business, Chris Mote. “It’s all going to be coming my way. It’s just an absolute nuisance is what it is.”

Last week another area resident filed an appeal with the state Environmental Protection Division, which in early March granted Mote a permit to apply the septic waste on his property.

Mote said residents shouldn’t be worried about odors or environmental contamination.

“I live on the 25 acres where I’m building (the facility),” Mote said. “I’m certainly going to control the odor at my own house. So they should be no more concerned than my wife or my own kids.”

As for the arguments some have made that the waste could pose a danger to Town Creek, Mote points to the EPD permit as validation of his plans.

“All you’ve got to do is follow the state law, and if you do what you’re told to do, then you can’t pollute the stream.”

It is the second time in recent years that a septic waste disposal site has been planned in White County. LHR Farms, which operates a larger facility, is currently embroiled in litigation with White County over an ordinance commissioners passed last year in an attempt to regulate such businesses.

“It’s just turned into a dumping ground for septic waste,” Liscar said. “There’s no zoning here whatsoever. These mountain folks just don’t want people to tell them what to do with their property. All I can say is they were here first.”

A ballot question asking voters whether White County should provide land use management, or zoning, for unincorporated areas of the county was defeated at the polls in 2008 by a majority vote of 52 percent.

Last year, in response to citizen complaints, county commissioners passed an ordinance regulating facilities that apply human waste to land. It includes buffer zones and more frequent inspections of operations than currently done by the EPD.

LHR is fighting the regulations in court, and Mote maintains he isn’t subject to them because he applied for a permit with the EPD before the ordinance passed.

“My rights were vested the day I applied for the (state) permit,” Mote said. “When there are no land use or zoning laws in place in your county, the only rule that applies is the state law. And once you apply, they cannot go back and change the law, if the constitution still means anything.”

David Syfan, attorney for the White County Board of Commissioners, does not believe Mote’s business would be grandfathered. He notes the board imposed a moratorium at the time of Mote’s application for a county special land use permit.

“From my viewpoint, he does not have any vested rights under the White County ordinances to operate,” Syfan said.

Teresa Stansel and her sister own a farm about a mile downstream from where Town Creek runs through the Mote property. Last week she appealed the EPD’s ruling that granted Mote a permit, arguing that the agency was failing to protect the public from toxic pollutants known to exist in septic and commercial waste.

“The community reaction has been one of concern over public endangerment,” Stansel said.

Mote, who said his critics are “a very few loud opponents,” said Stansel is entitled to her opinion, “but law is not based on opinion.”

“I can’t prove Teresa Stansel and the other neighbors wrong until I build it, and when I build it, I will prove them wrong,” Mote said.
Any construction is on hold until the EPD rules on the appeal.

Regardless of how the EPD rules, White County still has to issue a building permit before construction of the facility begins.

“In order to get a building permit he’s got to show he’s in compliance with the county’s ordinances,” Syfan said.

Mote said he has “no idea” on a timetable for building the facility, which was first planned more than two years ago.

“At this point I’m so used to waiting I don’t even guess how long it’s going to take,” Mote said. “I only know that we’ve done it legal and right, and we are going to get it done.”

Travis Turner, White County commission chairman, acknowledged that while zoning may have been a tough sell for residents in the past, “given our problems we’re having recently, it may not be as much in the future. But time will tell.”

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