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New sewer approval plans suggested

October 21, 1997

By DON AINES

Staff Writer, Martinsburg

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - An emergency regulation approved in March by the West Virginia Bureau of Public Health could make it easier for people buying land to be sure it is suitable for a septic system.

Terry Mayhew, a Berkeley County Heath Department sanitarian, told the planning commission Monday night that the regulation requires lots of any size to have a minimum of 10,000 square feet of septic reserve.

The problem has been that the planning commission has an agricultural exemption for lots covering more than five acres and state sewer regulations don't consider any lot over two acres to be a subdivision. That has resulted in subdivisions with two- and five-acre lots being drawn up and lots sold without the buyers having any assurance that the property is suitable for a residence.

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Mayhew said the perk tests of the soil have not been required until the owner is ready to build. When that time comes, some have been finding out that the land is not suitable for a standard septic system and may require a much more expensive system.

In some cases, properties have been found unsuitable for any kind of on-site system, according to Mayhew. The county health department has been getting about 500 requests a year for septic system permits and the soil or other problems result in problems for about 40 or 50 lots.

"From Hedgesville to the Virginia line, we've had numerous problems with the soil profiles there," Mayhew told the commission.

Health department approval is needed prior to final approval of a subdivision, but sometimes lots approved years ago fail to meet the perk test, Mayhew said. In years past, he explained, the department was stretched thin, with just one man responsible for reviewing hundreds of septic permits a year.

"We have denied permits on previously approved lots and will probably continue to do so," said Mayhew.

Engineers attending the meeting suggested it would make more sense to get the health department's approval before the lot lines are drawn on any subdivision. That would assure buyers that there was adequate septic reserve and would eliminate the need to redraw subdivision plans several times, they said.

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