Hall County officials agreed Thursday to support local developers in their opposition to a new interpretation of a decades-old rule concerning how septic systems are permitted.
“I know Hall County commissioners can’t change the rule, but I would like y’alls support,” said Harold Kilgore, owner of Gravelator Systems in Talmo, a septic install and repair business.
The Department of Public Health, through the district office, clarified earlier this year the minimum requirements necessary for approving septic systems, including land area requirements for initial and replacement systems, as well as county zoning and setback ordinances.
The rule particularly impacts older, smaller lots, many of which are located around Lake Lanier.
But how it’s applied is now changing.
Kilgore said lots carved out in the 1960s and 70s were effectively grandfathered in by previous health department leadership and not subject to the requirement that a conventional backup septic system be installed for all newly developed lots.
Proponents say the rule could help improve water flow and quality in the region because septic tanks have a lower rate of water returning to rivers and lakes.
Kilgore said the technology of his advanced treatment systems could offset the need for more stringent oversight.
Commissioner Kathy Cooper, who represents county government on the district board of health, said the state has been asked for clarification regarding the ruling.
Kilgore said he supports strong environmental regulations to protect Lake Lanier and other water sources, but added that other points of pollution, such as road building, commercial development, sewage leaks and landscaping take a larger toll.
“We want clean water, a place for our kids to recreate,” Kilgore said. “I’m not saying we just need to ignore dirty Lake Lanier. But it’s not all from septic.”
Tim Williams, associate executive director for Habitat for Humanity of Hall County, said less than 3 percent of septic systems in the county fail.
Habitat relies on the use of septic systems to develop small, blighted properties into affordable housing.
“What we’re concerned about is availability of lots,” Williams said, adding that affordable housing remains in short supply through Hall.
Williams said he wants the decisions on permitting made at the local level with local interests and needs in mind.
“We can make these smaller lots work,” he said.
Williams said the rule also impacts property owners along the shores of Lake Lanier, where many older, smaller lots exist.
And so plans to build three- and four-bedroom homes with septic on less than an acre could be restricted to just two bedrooms.
Plus, many properties on the lake simply have no space for required back-up systems.
“I feel like we should stay up with the technology,” Commissioner Scott Gibbs said, adding that he wants to work with planning staff to draft a letter to the health board stating its position. “I’m willing to do whatever we can to reach out.”