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Unpermitted septic, cabin results in fine for Darby-area man

Unpermitted septic, cabin results in fine for Darby-area man

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HAMILTON - Darby-area resident Len Wallace is in trouble with the Ravalli County Board of Health for installing a septic system without a permit and building a cabin on his Rye Creek property despite repeated orders from the county sanitarian to stop construction and get a permit.

The Health Board imposed a $300 penalty earlier this month on Wallace for his failure to get the septic permit. The board still may take Wallace to court and seek fines for his decision to continue building after Oct. 15, the date on which Sanitarian Jake Kammerer mailed Wallace a cease-and-desist order.

At a meeting Monday with the board and Ravalli County Attorney George Corn, Wallace reluctantly agreed to stop work on the one- to two-bedroom cabin. He also agreed to disconnect and remove a septic system he personally put in without prior review or approval by the sanitarian.

According to Kammerer, that system was installed without soil analysis or an engineer's review. The design also doesn't meet state criteria for septic systems, he said.

Problems with Wallace's cabin site - adjacent to his Big Velvet Ranch game farm - began in July when another county sanitarian, Dave Stanton, tried to evaluate the property high above the valley floor and lists three problems:

n The site is on a small ridge with steep slopes on all three downhill sides. County regulations require all septic systems to be set back at least 25 feet from a 25 percent slope.

n A test hole revealed bedrock at two feet deep or less. At least five feet of soil is required for a below-ground sewage disposal system.

n A foundation had been placed on the site, prompting the $300 penalty for beginning construction without a septic permit.

In September, Kammerer sent Wallace a letter asking him to contact the county and telling him to stop construction until he did. Two days later, Ed Mortenson, manager of Big Velvet Ranch, wrote Kammerer a letter stating that an engineer had been hired, and as soon as he could design a septic system, the county would be advised.

On Oct. 15, Kammerer informed Wallace that he was aware that Wallace had installed a drain field without county approval. Kammerer issued the cease-and-desist order and notified Wallace that he was violating portions of the county sewage-disposal regulations.

Although Kammerer questioned Monday whether the rocky building site is suitable for a septic system, Howard Anderson, a mechanical engineer hired by Wallace, told the board he believes he can design an experimental septic system that will work.

Anderson said the site will be "a tough one," but asked the board for the opportunity to "play with it and experiment with it." He said he and the county sanitarian strongly disagree about the suitability of soils at the site.

Board members said they occasionally review alternative systems, but they want Wallace to first submit a site evaluation and plan, neither of which he has done.

Anderson asked to have until Nov. 23 to draft plans. He will meet with Kammerer on Nov. 12 at the cabin site to evaluate the area.

Board members on Monday warned Wallace they'd be watching him closely so that he doesn't resume construction of the cabin without a septic permit.

Earlier at Monday's meeting, when commissioner Jack Atthowe asked Wallace if he would stop construction, Wallace responded that he wanted to ask Corn what the cease-and-desist order really meant.

"It means you should stop building," Corn said.

"And there will be a $10 fine (per day) if I continue?" Wallace asked.

Corn said the county would need to take Wallace to court to collect the fine of up to $50 per day if he chose to contest it, but the county also has the option of seeking an injunction from District Court to stop construction immediately.

Health Board member Pat Zeiler said she was concerned that if Wallace could build without a permit, it would set a precedent in the county.

"You are violating the regulations by continuing to build," Corn told Wallace.

At that point, Wallace asked for a couple minutes to

leave the room and confer with his engineer. He returned and agreed to stop construction.

"Not that I mind setting precedent," Wallace said.

Carlotta Grandstaff, a Health Board member, asked Wallace what assurances the county has that he will stop construction. Wallace refused to respond.

In cases the past few years, Wallace was cited for not complying with government regulations. In 1994, he was cited by the state Department of Environmental Quality for allowing excess sediment and waste from his game-farm pens to wash into Rye Creek. The Army Corps of Engineers, also in 1994, cited Wallace for building seven dams on Lowman Creek without securing permits.

After an inspection in 1997, DEQ ordered Wallace to develop runoff controls to prevent discharge into Rye Creek from the game farm pens.

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