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According to Legiscan.com, this year 2,035 bills have been introduced in the West Virginia Legislature and so far 57 of them have been completed. The number of introduced bills is down 17 percent from two sessions ago and down 9 percent from last year. This might sound like a good trend for those of us that are concerned about the impact of legislation on our lives; however the number of completed bills is on the rise. Last year there were 439 completed bills, up 18 percent from the previous year and up a whopping 46 percent from 2011.
There are those that believe that the passage of bills through the legislature is an indication that they are “doing something.” I’m not one of them. However, on occasion there is legislation introduced that actually aims to protect our rights. One example is HB4007, the lead sponsor of which is Berkeley County Republican Delegate Larry Kump.
According to the bill’s summary: “The purpose of this bill is to prohibit any state public utility from forcing owner-occupied residences to participate in a public residential water or sewer system except where the water or sewer system being used is unsafe for human use or is a clear public safety hazard to other citizens.”
Contrast that to a bill that was introduced four years ago, HB2785, that included among its sponsors current Speaker of the House of Delegates Tim Miley, D-Harrison. The summary of that bill was as follows: “The purpose of this bill is to require that all houses, dwellings and businesses, except those used primarily for agriculture, located within three hundred feet of where public water service is deemed available for the first time after July 1, 2009, must pay the initial tap fee and thereafter, pay the greater of the minimum bill or the otherwise applicable tariff rates based on usage.” Fortunately, it never became law.
So then, why is HB4007 necessary? The spirit of Miley’s bill lives on in certain local jurisdictions. There are homeowners in Berkeley County that have been forced to hook up when they are within 300 feet of new water and sewer lines. According to Delegate Kump in a recent interview, “There are two opposing sides. Both issues are fairly plain. How to resolve them without causing further distress to private property owners, who feel like their rights are violated, is the question.”
The distress Kump alludes to was evident in a letter he published in his newsletter from a former homeowner and registered nurse. She wrote, “I became disabled and two years later was forced to hook up to public sewer lines in [the] Berkeley Station area of Martinsburg. I went to [a] meeting (along with many of my neighbors) and tried to refuse but was told I would still have to pay a sewer bill, with a fine attached and a penalty, for not yet being hooked up each month I refused to “join” the system. I pulled every cent from my savings and did not purchase many of my medications for four months so I could have the funds to hook up.”
She goes on to say that she eventually lost her house, as did many of her neighbors.
Some opponents of HB 4007 cite safety and environmental concerns. The claim is that septic systems pose an environmental hazard if they are not properly designed and maintained. That’s an important “if” since the same can be said of wastewater treatment plants that are not properly designed and maintained. In fact, it can be argued that WWTPs have a track record that is far worse than residential septic systems and the failure of a WWTP has far greater consequences.
Here are some things to consider: 1. A well-designed and maintained septic system produces no pollution, a claim that cannot be made by WWTPs, which only reduce pollution; they don’t eliminate it. 2. A residential septic system will last indefinitely while the treatment equipment of a WWTP has a lifespan of approximately 13 to 20 years. 3. Septic systems actually help to recharge local water tables.
Then there is the cost – initial and ongoing. Private well and septic systems are much less expensive to install and maintain on a per capita basis than public systems. Then there are the recurring capital costs every 13 to 20 years. For this reason, there are those that believe that forced hookups subsidize and serve special interests. Hey, if you can’t attract customers in the open market, get the government to coerce and compel people to become customers. Not allowing consumers to choose freely is the opposite of a free market. Then when the “unintended consequences” appear, will it then be blamed on “market failure”? Round and round we go.
Kump’s bill was referred to the Political Subdivisions Committee on Jan. 8. It has been gathering dust since then. You might want to ask the chair of that committee, Delegate Tiffany Lawrence, D-Jefferson, why the bill hasn’t been sent to the floor for a vote. And, if you’re a homeowner like me with a well and septic, you might want to send a thank you to Delegate Kump for his concern for our rights.
— Elliot Simon writes
from Harpers Ferry