By Alex Bridges
FRONT ROYAL -- Rules that keep wells and septic systems apart in Warren County may remain unchanged after months of study and discussion.
Retired physicist John Rizzo spoke to supervisors at their regular meeting Tuesday regarding the regulations and the need to keep wells and septic systems apart. Rizzo, a member of the Board of Zoning Appeals who also crafted the county's ordinance for chapter 179 of the county code that includes welland septic setbacks more than 20 years, offered scientific justification to not reduce the setback requirements.
Rizzo referred to the Warren County Builders Association's request to reduce the setbacks for wells.
"I must say that this part of their request transcends all business considerations because it affects health issues and the welfare of the citizens you represent," Rizzo told the board.
As Rizzo noted, the objective of the regulations remains to reduce the risk of groundwater contamination in subdivisions with a potential for high-density development. Studies show a direct link between groundwater contamination and on-site effluent from septic systems in densely populated areas, Rizzo said.
Shenandoah Farms residents Dee Schools, who served on a panel that looked at the proposal, and Linda McDonough expressed support for keeping the current minimum distance between wells at 100 feet. Schools, who lives on Freeze Road, noted that the county offers a process by which homeowners can seek a variance if they face a hardship.
"I think the people that live here, that are really going to be affected if there are changes made, it will not be beneficial to us, especially in the long run," said McDonough, of High Top Road.
Planning Director Taryn Logan presented information to the board regarding the proposed changes to the ordinance and to update supervisors on the issue. Logan noted that the county should change two of its regulations in the code to conform to state standards.
"There's definitely varying opinions on the committee," Logan told supervisors.
Logan noted that the health department enforces the state regulations. However, two parts of the local code fall below state standards. Supervisor Tony Carter proposed the board hold a public hearing to address two parts of the county ordinance not currently in compliance with the state code.
Logan notified homeowners associations in the county and received responses from five groups. The Rockland Farms association advised they saw no negative impact if the county reduced the setback distance between wells from 100 feet to 50 feet, according to its response letter. Gary Cox, association president, expressed concern that dense development, if approved by the county, could have a negative impact on water levels.
Representatives of Pineland Park opposed the proposed changes. The Fortsmouth House Club, representing Lower Valley and Passage Creek subdivisions, and the association for Shenandoah Farms, opposed the proposal and supported the Planning Commission's recommendation to leave the ordinance as is.
H.D. Smith, a registered sanitarian, warned in a Feb. 18 letter to Supervisor Daniel Murray Jr. that the proposed change "would be hazardous to public health" and noted the 100-foot setback requirement between wells and septic systems barely gives enough space to ensure contamination doesn't occur.
Supervisors adopted the ordinance in 1991 for areas in the Catoctin Greenstone Geological Formation based on concerns of groundwater contamination.
Supervisors in November 2011 discussed revising the code chapter regarding the separation distances between wells, drainfields, springs, sinkholes and septic-disposal components. The Planning Commission held a public hearing March 14, 2012 on two proposed changes to the ordinance that are currently below state standards. The commission forwarded a recommendation to supervisors to amend the existing ordinance. The changes sought to increase the setback requirement for a well to a building sewer from 20 feet to 50 feet and the distance from a well to a conveyance line from 20 feet to 50 feet. Rizzo also spoke to the commission at the March meeting.
Supervisors received the recommendation but delayed action on the proposed amendments. Instead, they created the Chapter 179 Review Committee that consisted of board members, county officials, a soil scientist, representatives of the health department and the area builders association. Schools also served on the committee as a resident representative.
The committee met again Nov. 28 to review a memo from County Attorney Blair Mitchell regarding septic system maintenance options. The Warren County Builders Association proposed a reduction in the minimum setback between wells from 100 feet to 50 feet.
Also at the meeting, supervisors:
• Approved the purchase of approximately 0.29 acres of land from the Warren County Fair Association for right of way for Fairground Road. Staff and the association negotiated a price of $25,000. The county would pay $15,000 at the close of the sale in April, then $5,000 in April 2014 and 2015. The county sought the land for the eventual widening of Fairground Road or the creation of a right-turn lane to the main entrance that could address traffic congestion during peak times. Stanley recommended the county purchase the land as an alternative to the association's recent request for a donation needed to help offset costs and less revenue
• Approved an increase in the fee charged to treat septage from $25 to $75 per load of up to 1,000. County officials say the increase is needed to help cover the estimated $2.35 million cost to upgrade the septage treatment plant in Front Royal as well as the debt service associated with the project.
• Approved the re-allocation of $27,432 in Virginia Department of Transportation revenue-sharing funds remaining from High Top Road to the Fellows Drive project in Shenandoah Farms Sanitary District.
Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or firstname.lastname@example.org