Septic bill would protect consumers

Published 10:27 am Wednesday, February 12, 2014

A bill before the Virginia General Assembly would expand the list of qualified professionals allowed to conduct regular state-mandated inspections of septic systems in accordance with the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act.

House Bill 1217 passed in the House of Delegates on Monday and has been referred to the Senate Committee on Agriculture for action in that chamber. It would allow an onsite sewage operator or designer or a soil evaluator to assess and certify a residential septic system. Currently those certifications can only be obtained from sewage handlers.

According to its sponsor, Delegate Rick Morris of Carrollton, whose 64th District includes a portion of Suffolk, the bill could help reduce the cost of septic tank inspections mandated under Virginia’s adoption of the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act by introducing competition into the marketplace.

Under the CBPA, homeowners within the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Area are required to pump out their septic tanks every five years or to submit documentation from a licensed sewage handler that their tanks have been inspected, found to be functioning properly and do not need to be pumped out.

The costs for owners of Suffolk’s approximately 4,900 septic tanks can range from $250 to $350 for a pump-out down to $150 or so for an inspection. Clearly it can save a homeowner money if he can avoid the pump-out and have his tank certified, instead.

On the other hand, sewage haulers currently have a monopoly on the process, and they arguably have an incentive to find the tanks they inspect to be in need of pumping out.

Though most sewage handlers assuredly operate with integrity and professionalism, allowing other qualified professionals to compete in the marketplace would give homeowners a higher degree of confidence that they are receiving the best service they can get at the lowest price available.

The Senate should pass this consumer-focused bill and send it to the governor for his signature.