Proposed St. Louis Co. septic system ordinance causing concern among some area realtors

By KBJR News 1

November 25, 2013 Updated Nov 25, 2013 at 7:27 PM CDT

Duluth, MN (NNCNOW.com) - Since the 90s, Minnesota State law has required a private property seller to disclose the current status of their septic system.

As part of that deal, Saint Louis County requires a documented transfer agreement which lays out the system's condition between buyer and seller.

According to Environmental Program Administrator Mark St. Lawrence, of the county Environmental Services Department, all too often a buyer wouldn't upgrade a septic system in need after a sale has taken place.

"Now, in most cases that has taken place, but in enough cases that hasn't," said St. Lawrence.

This has led ESD officials to draft Ordinance 61, which would require sellers to provide a septic system Certificate of Compliance at point of sale good for up to 5 years.

If that can't be provided, 110 percent of a written estimate to install a compliant system would be escrowed by either buyer or seller, potentially for up to two years.

Replacing a septic system could cost an average of $15,000.

ESD officials say it's the best way to protect the area's human health and environment, especially given the county's more lenient, cost–friendly approach to septic systems than the state mandate.

"We're trying very hard to make our septic system ordinance the kind of ordinance that not only protects health and the environment," said Environmental Services Dept. Director Ted Troolin, "but also protects people's pocketbooks."

But given the months of frozen ground the Northland experiences annually, rendering septic system testing undoable, Sarah Wisdorf—President of the Duluth Area Association of Realtors—says this escrow would freeze 23 percent of yearly property sales, and increase the cost and time of doing business.

"During the winter, if you're unable to test your property, you're pretty much blanket punishing everyone versus the ones that are imminent health threats or definitional failures," said Wisdorf, inside her office along Woodland Ave, in Duluth.

Wisdorf says the current transfer agreement may not be working as fast as the county would like, but through stricter enforcement, it would be the solution to the problem.

"We are all for if they really want to start enforcing that transfer agreement," added Wisdorf.

Both sides of the debate say roughly 25 percent of all county septic system homes would require an update, or new system.

The next open house forum is scheduled for December second, in Virginia, at the Northland Office Center.

Public comment runs through December ninth.

The Saint Louis County Planning Commission will consider all public comments Thursday, December 12th, in the same location.

Billy Wagness

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