BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
MONTROSE – Lee County will be moving forward with injunctions against seven, and possibly eight, homeowners in the Mooar-Powdertown district after nearly two years of efforts to get residents to upgrade septic systems per a 2016 Iowa Department of Natural Resources mandate.
The Lee County Board of Supervisors voted 3-0 to move forward with the injunctions after Lee County Health Department officials have been trying for the past three years to get septic systems upgraded in the unincorporated residential district.
A program was started in 2016 to get 38 homeowners with unpermitted septic systems to have upgraded or new systems installed. The effort began when the Iowa Department of Natural Resources told Lee County that Chatfield Lake, located in the township, was contaminated and had to be cleaned up. DNR officials at one point threatened the county with fines of up to $25,000 per day if efforts weren’t undertaken to get the district and lake cleaned up.
Rosa Haukedahl, program director for Lee County Environmental Services, said since the supervisors directed the county to draw up injunctions last week, no additional residents have come forward.
“Last week we presented a proposal to take legal action against eight residents and I did not hear from any of them during the last week,” she said. I did receive phone calls from other residents, but they have a permit and intention to install their systems. Nothing has changed from last week,” Haukedahl said.
She said several other residents who have come forward and gotten a permit and have intentions to install the systems are not included in the injunctions. Former Lee County Attorney Mike Short filed two injunctions before he retired and those issues were quickly resolved.
“Those residents quickly installed their system. We’re hoping for the same outcome. Again, our intention is not to remove people from their homes, but we have a job to do.”
Matt Pflug asked what the language of the injunctions would look like, but Haukedahl said Lee County Attorney Ross Braden has not drawn up documents yet.
“Again, they’ve had ample time to resolve this. This started again back in 2016 and we started with 38 so I think a lot of progress has been made here,” Pflug said. “However, we have been served by DNR basically that we have to have 100% compliance and they are polluting the lake so they know what’s going on here.”
Haukedahl said LCHD has had a presence in the district and said at this point everyone who is going to install has done so.
She said from now until the injunctions are filed, if any residents come to the LCHD and get a permit and show intent to install a system, the injunction can be withheld.
Supervisor Ron Fedler said this is something the county is not taking lightly.
“At some point the DNR could start fining the county and that’s why we have to do this. Not because we want to,” Fedler said. “These fines could be daily, not yearly.”
Pflug said the fines from DNR could be very large and the Lee County taxpayers would be paying the fine. However, Supervisor Gary Folluo said DNR officials have been encouraged with the progress the county is making.
Fedler said with the winter coming and ground hardening it could be spring before the new systems can be in place.
Huakedahl said the samples continue to be taken from the lake out by the district and the local and state officials continue to monitor the water. She said she didn’t know if mitigation would be required to make the lake healthy again.
In an unrelated matter, the board tabled the second reading of a new ordinance prohibiting the use of semi-trailer “jake” brakes within specified areas of the county. With Board chairman and vice chairman Rick Larkin absent from the meeting, Folluo, Pflug, and Fedler voted to table the discussion.
Area truck driver Chris Sorrentino asked the board to review the jake brake ordinance again because it will be very tough to enforce it.
“If the county wants to put this into a law, the question is how are you going to successfully enforce this? Even a truck that’s 30 years old with the old jake brakes that are louder than God, we all understand that. By the time he comes down that ramp, makes the run, the resident calls the complaint in….that truck is 50 miles down the road.”
Sorrentino suggested putting a time frame on the ordinance from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m.
In other action, the board:
• tabled discussion on converting two part-time county attorneys to full-time after the retirement of Bruce McDonald from the staff. His salary would be used to pay the difference in the two-part time county attorneys to full-time status. The board tabled the discussion to allow Braden to attend the next meeting and talk about how the salaries would impact next year.