NB Council tables update on ordinance for water, sewer hookups

When reviewing the city ordinance that deems when structures within North Branch have to hook up to city water and sewer, staff noticed an array of discrepancies in the current ordinance that needed to be addressed.
Thus, at the Aug. 8 North Branch City Council meeting, there was an item on the agenda to repeal and replace current city code requiring connection to city utilities. The council voted 3-2 to table the item until the next regular council meeting.
Council members Jim Swenson, Robert Canada and Kelly Neider said they’d like more time to research the proposal.
City Administrator Renae Fry wanted to make it clear that the updates primarily affect new construction — it has not been the practice of the city to run new sewer and water lines through already-established neighborhoods that haven’t had those services in the past.
The main language changes made to the ordinance had to do with the hookup timeframe and definition of a functioning septic system.
The former ordinance reads, “The owner of all existing houses, buildings, or properties used for human occupancy, employment, recreation, or other purposes from which wastewater is discharged, and which is situated within the city or county and adjacent on any street, alley, or right-of-way in which there is now located or is proposed to be located any public sanitary sewer of the city, shall be required at the owner(s) expense to install suitable connection to the public sewer in accordance with the provisions of this division, within 90 days of the date the public sewer is operational, provided access to the public sewer is within 100 feet of the structure generating the wastewater, if required to preserve health, safety and welfare of the occupants or environment. If no threat to health, safety or welfare exists, and the existing septic system is in full compliance with city, county and state code, then the property owner will not be required to connect to the municipal sanitary sewer system.”
Fry said the city didn’t have a definition in its ordinance for a “fully functional” septic system, so they decided to go with an industry standard, which is a 3-year certificate of compliance.
“We have a concept where at a point of sale, at the time of transfer, we can request that a property owner supply a certificate of compliance,” she said. “It is an industry document through which someone with a credential in septic systems would investigate and then make some formal opinion as to if that system was compliant with code, operational standards and so on. Those certificates are good for three years. Staff had originally proposed an 8-year window. Our building official pointed out to us that this 8-year window doesn’t really line up with anything in the industry because of these 3-year certificates of compliance.”
Fry noted that if no action was taken by a property owner, he or she would have two years to hook up to city services, if they were available in the area and within 100 feet of the property line, not a structure, as was the case on the former ordinance. The structure requirement, staff noted, could have forced people to hook up their homes if they, for example, had a barn within 100 feet of a utility line.
A resident with a fully functional septic system could apply every three years for a new certificate of compliance, up to a maximum of 15 years.
“The idea is that if a service does come down their road and it has the appropriate form and structure so they could hook into it, a property owner with an existing system could have up to 15 years before they would be required to hook up to that municipal service,” Fry said. “We wanted to make sure we offered property owners a very long and reasonable time to obtain the benefit of the useful life of that septic system while giving the city some assurance that that individual would eventually hook up to the system.”
Residents Joyce Borchardt, Theresa Furman and Kathy Welsh voiced their objection to the ordinance update.
Borchardt said she thought residents would be “assured that if they had their own services they got to keep them until such a time as they did not want to.”
Furman, referencing her time on the city council, said the council has a practice of giving people discounts if they’re mandated to hook up to city services.
“A bunch of years ago there was a house across the street from Clayton Anderson’s on the north side of 95, and they had to hook up, and the city gave them credit and took a certain amount of money off of their hookup and what have you.”
Welsh criticized the council for what she said wasn’t enough citizen involvement in this decision.
“In changing this, you are endangering some of the rural and senior citizens’ livelihoods,” she said.
Mayor Kirsten Hagen-Kennedy stressed there was already an ordinance on the books requiring hookup in certain situations, and the action the council took was to make it more streamlined.
“This was an ordinance that already exists in the city of North Branch,” she said. “We have a lot of citizens in North Branch who had no idea this ordinance existed, obviously.”
Fry expanded on the mayor’s point.
“Everybody who meets our standards is already hooked up to the system,” she said. “It’s going to be new service in the ground or a new home that’s really going to trigger this.”

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