County attorney updates commissioners on court case involving gray water systems

By: 
Gretchen Mensink Lovejoy

County Attorney Brett Corson updated the Fillmore County Board on the status of the court case involving Amish families that live in homes that do not have gray water systems installed during the Tuesday, May 7, commissioner meeting.

The gray water systems, or subsurface sewage treatment systems, have been an issue that has involved the county and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) over the past several months.

Corson reminded the board that the homes that were built without wastewater systems had drain pipes running straight from the house to the ground below and that some outhouses incorporated five-gallon buckets to contain human waste that was then disposed of in the open, leaving the water supply at risk.

“There was a 63-page decision, and that’s long, but hopefully avoids an appeal,” Corson said. “It’s good for the county, for the public and hopefully for the Amish as well.”

The decision outlines an alternate system for the Amish community, with a smaller drain and septic.

“There are also requirements for the outhouses because that’s a very important public health and safety issue that will protect against diseases,” Corson added. “The Amish community began with straight pipes, and by the time it came to court, they wanted to put in a mulch system, and the court said that a straight pipe is not acceptable, and neither is a mulch system. We hope they accept it, or they could appeal it. We’re hoping they just agree to put a system in.”

Commissioner Randy Dahl thanked Corson for his work in bringing the case through the court. “Thank you for your work on this. It could be precedent-setting,” he said. “Outhouses…anything to inspect in the outhouses?”

Corson cited that the court agreed that the outhouses should be part of the septic system and that using buckets will not float. “You can’t have one without the other,” he said.

Bakke questioned, “So gray water is kitchen and laundry. You’re not anticipating any black water in the system, because if there’s black water going into it, then they would need a full septic system. So, they have 60 days to appeal, but how many days until they have to be in compliance?”

Corson answered, “It’s imminent that they put the health rule in effect within ten months.”

Commissioner Mitch Lentz observed, “The ground will be frozen.”

Corson countered, “Hopefully, they’ll move along with it voluntarily.”