INFORMATION leaflets are being distributed by South Tipperary County Council to more than 15,000 house and premises owners notifying them that they must register their sewerage systems or septic tanks by February 1 next year.
The information campaign on the controversial registration scheme is being rolled out ahead of the September 28 deadline where householders can register their septic tank for a reduced fee of E5.
After that date, the registration fee will increase to E50. The Council’s Acting Director of Environment and Water Services Jimmy Harney informed Monday’s Council meeting that so far just 571 premises in South Tipperary have registered their septic tanks, which represents about 4% of the total.
He urged those with premises relying on septic tanks to register and warned that they will be committing an offence if they fail to do so. The registration of septic tanks will pave the way for them to be inspected by EPA appointed inspectors. The inspections will commence next year.
According to Mr Harney areas where ground and surface water is most at risk will be prioritised for inspection. Ten days notice will be given to households selected for an inspection and the notification will come from the Co. Council.
If the inspectors find any faults in a household’s domestic water treatment system, the owner will receive an advisory notice and be obliged to remedy the defects. A certificate of registration will be issued to households that register, which will last for five years but the householder won’t have to pay a fee to re-register for the next five years.
Mr Harney said the Council aimed to have the information leaflets about the registration scheme delivered to the more than 15,000 premises not connected to a public sewerage system in the county by the end of the week. He pointed out that there was not one incidence of widespread pollution in South Tipperary due to domestic waste water systems and the Council didn’t envisage there will be a problem for the majority of households with septic tank systems.
Concern was expressed by several councillors that householders with old septic tanks will face huge costs in repairing or replacing their systems if they fail to pass the inspections. Mr Harney agreed to write to Environment Minister Phil Hogan requesting him to outline his Department’s plans for a grant scheme to assist those who will have to carry out substantial works on their domestic sewerage systems. However, he told councillors he believed the Department was waiting to see the condition of septic tank systems around the country first before deciding on any grant measures.
Labour Cllr Bobby Fitzgerald said he didn’t believe the registration scheme would work unless it was accompanied by the availability of grant aid while fellow Cllr Sylvia Cooney-Sheehan said the Government should postpone the registration deadline until a grant scheme was in place. She feared that otherwise, the Government will be faced with the same situation as the Household Charge with half registering and the other half not.
Workers & Unemployment Action Group councillor Pat English agreed with the grant scheme proposal, pointing out that the real cost was not going to be the registration fee but the work that would have to be done on the ground by householders. He said Environment Minister Phil Hogan is putting another stealth tax on people, who just can’t afford it.
Fianna Fail Cllr Siobhan Ambrose pointed out that the registration system would have come in irrespective of what government was in power because it was being pushed by the EU. However, she was very concerned that pensioners and those on low income would be burdened with the huge cost of replacing their systems.
A widow she knew was very concerned about the inspections as her septic tank dated from the 1960s. Her daughter, who had built a house in her back garden, had to invest about E18,000 in a sewerage treatment system. Fine Gael Cllr Michael Fitzgerald voiced his support for the registration system. He agreed financial help should be available to people, defective septic tanks must be rectified. “I certainly don’t want to see a situation like what happened in Galway where water tankers supplied people with water for months because their water systems were contaminated,” he argued.
Jimmy Harney stressed that Minister Hogan was adopting a “pragmatic” approach to the septic tank inspections and “rolls royce style jobs” would not be sought from householders required to repair or replace defective systems. He advised householders who had a problem with their sewerage systems not to wait until the EPA inspection. “If it’s not working properly you should get it sorted out,” he advised. Householders can register their septic tanks on-line at www.ProtectOurWater.ie or at local authority offices. Application forms are available from South Tipperary’s local authorities, libraries and Citizen’s Information Centres.