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Administrative Appeal Process Must Now Be Offered for Required Septic-to-Sewer Conversions

Administrative Appeal Process Must Now Be Offered for Required Septic-to-Sewer Conversions

After several years in the making, the legislature passed a new law, ESB 5871, governing septic-to-sewer conversions, which AWC calls a “middle ground” between the needs of local governments and property owners. Effective July 24, 2015, cities, towns, and counties are now required to offer an administrative appeals process when septic repair or replacement of existing single family systems is denied by the local health department and sewer hookup is required. What is unusual about this new law is that it requires one type of local jurisdiction - a city, town, or county - to hear appeals from decisions made by another type of local jurisdiction - a local health department of health district.

On-site septic systems, or on-site sewage systems, are the most common method of wastewater treatment for homes, commercial establishments, and other places that are not connected to a public sanitary sewer system. An on-site sewage system consists of a network of pipes, a septic tank, and a drain field, and provides subsurface soil treatment and dispersal of sewage.

Many cities, towns, and counties have an ordinance or resolution requiring connection to a public sewer system upon the failure of an on-site septic system. The septic installers association argued that these regulations sometimes forced unfair financial burdens onto homeowners due to the cost of hooking up to sewer systems. This new law gives single-family homeowners an outlet for appeal when a request to repair or replace their existing on-site system is denied solely because of a local law, regulation, or ordinance requiring connection to a public sewer system. Local jurisdictions may use existing administrative appeals processes if the legislative body of the local jurisdiction or an administrative hearings officer presides over that process.

The administrative appeals process must, at a minimum, consider:

  • Whether it is cost-prohibitive to require the owner to connect to the public sewer system.
  • The public health or environmental impacts from allowing the replacement or repair of the septic system, particularly on surface water and groundwater.
  • The impacts on public sewer system performance or financing from the replacement or repair of the septic system.
  • If there are financial assistance programs or latecomer agreements available to the owner by the town, city, county, or state.

If, after the appeals process, the jurisdiction determines that the owner still must connect to the public sewer system, the owner may, in complying with the determination and subject to approval of appropriate permits, select and hire contractors to perform the necessary work to connect to the public sewer system at the owner's expense. Unless otherwise required by law, a determination by a local jurisdiction on this issue is not subject to further appeal.

MRSC is a private nonprofit organization serving local governments in Washington State. Eligible government agencies in Washington State may use our free, one-on-one Ask MRSC service to get answers to legal, policy, or financial questions.

Photo of John W. Carpita, PE

About John W. Carpita, PE

John was MRSC’s resource for many years on engineering design, purchasing and contracting issues, local improvement districts, and other infrastructure issues. He had a widely varied career as a consultant, county engineer, city engineer and project manager. He is now retired.