The cost of new homes using on-site sewage disposal systems will increase significantly in Harford County and elsewhere in Maryland after Jan. 1, when a controversial new state regulation takes effect.
The required installation of what is referred to in the law as "Best Available Technology," or BAT, is spurring owners of undeveloped lots to get well and septic permits before the law takes effect, a county health official said.
Most of those affected are in the northern half of the county where there are still hundreds of undeveloped, but platted building lots.
The deadline to receive a septic permit and be grandfathered from the law is this Friday, Dec. 28. County offices will not be open on Monday, Dec. 31, because of the New Year's holiday.
"The BAT units will cost substantially more than the conventional concrete septic tanks that are currently required," the Harford County Health Department said in a recent news advisory about the change in the law.
The additional cost is estimated at between $11,000 and $14,000 per individual septic system, Kevin Barnaba, director of the health department's Bureau of Environmental Health, said last week.
According to the health department's earlier media advisory, on Sept. 21, The Maryland Register (Volume 39, Issue 19) published a final action on Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) Regulation 26.04.02 that takes effect on Jan. 1, 2013.
"Several changes to the regulation are cited in the code, the most significant of which requires new residential and non-residential construction to install a nitrogen reducing component also known as "Best Available Technology" (BAT)," the news release continued. "Current MDE negotiated prices under the Bay Restoration Fund Program range between $11,000 and $14,000 for the additional septic system component required by this new regulation."
"This is not a local deal; it was done at the state level," Bill Wiseman, spokesman for the county health department, said.
The regulation does not affect repairs to existing failing septic systems, only those systems for which a county permit is issued after Jan. 1, both Wiseman and Barnaba stressed.
A grandfathering policy was established by MDE allowing any property owner who obtains a septic system construction permit for new construction or additions prior to the effective date of Jan. 1, 2013 to be exempt from the requirement to install the BAT component, according to the county health department. In addition to receiving the on-site sewage disposal system permit by Dec. 28, the system itself must be installed within one-year of the date the permit is issued.
Barnaba said he expected to be busy with permits Wednesday, Thursday and Friday as the deadline looms.
"We definitely had an uptick in permit applications" during the past six weeks, he said, explaining that the department sent letters to licensed plumbers and septic system installers advising them of the deadline.
Barnaba said his agency issued 77 septic permits between Nov. 1 and Dec. 20 this year, compared with 14 permits during the same period last year. While the 2012 figure is five times greater, he pointed out that building in general has picked up this year compared to last.
According to the Harford County Department of Planning and Zoning's most recent monthly permit report, 224 permits to build new single-family homes were issued in the county (excluding the municipalities of Aberdeen, Bel Air and Havre de Grace) from Jan. 1 to Nov. 30 this year, compared with 170 for the same period in 2011. The permits are not broken down by whether the homes are being built on public sewer or private septic systems.
Barnaba also said that in order for the health department to issue a septic permit, the lot in question must also have received a well permit and have had the well drilled. That, he said, is a normal procedure so the department can determine if the well is properly drilled and is not within the septic absorption field, also known as a drain field.
A typical concrete septic tank that is used to settle solids, while allowing liquids to disperse into the absorption field, costs between $2,000 to $4,000 including installation, Barnaba explained. The BAT system, which uses a biological aeration process to remove nitrogen from the effluent, costs up to $14,000 more and could thus run as much as $18,000.
Neither the concrete tank technology nor the BAT technology includes the additional cost of installing the absorption field, which Barnaba said typically runs between $5,000 and $30,000 and will still be required with the new technology.
"You still have to have the absorption field; that's not affected [by BAT]," he said.
For more information about the new regulations visit the Harford County Health Department website, http://www.harfordcountyhealth.com,http://www.harfordcountyhealth.com or call the Bureau of Environmental Health, 410-877-2300.