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Manchester flush with septic woes

Cynthia Graves currently lives in Seattle, but had hoped to make Manchester her home after retiring.

Unfortunately, septics woes have clouded her dream.

“We bought the house (in Manchester) in April with the idea that we would initially rent it out and then build on it and move in after we retired,” Graves said. “We got the trail cleaned, we got the woods cleaned out and we got the house painted.”

According to Graves, her renters moved in soon after the purchase of the house on Colchester, which the previous owners had left vacant.

“They only lived there for two weeks,” Graves said. “One week after they moved in, the trail was completely wet.”

Graves said she had asked to get the septic tank pumped before the property exchanged hands. She assumed she was starting with an empty tank.

“I learned about the septic problems from the neighbors,” Graves said. “The sellers didn’t disclose that there was anything wrong with the septic.”

Wendy Pendley, who lives right off the Cole loop near Yukon Harbor, said she’s had a similar experience. Pendley moved into her house in late June of 2003 and just three months later she came home to a note on her door from the health district explaining her septic was failing.

Michael Drew, an environmental health specialist for the Kitsap County Health District, estimates out of roughly 300 properties in the Manchester area, 29 septic systems are considered having “failed” and most are already repaired.

“We don’t evacuate people in general,” Drew said. “Evacuation occurs when a resident refuses to do the necessary steps needed to take care of the problem.”

“I have been working very well with the health department,” Pendley said.

“As it is right now, Michael (Drew) wants me to call him at least twice a week.”

Pendley said she had a new design drawn but there is controversy as to whether or not there is a place in the ground she can install a new system.

“They will say I have to have an automatic pumpout,” Pendley said. “I can’t afford that. That’s $250 a week.”

According to Stewart Whitford, a water quality program manager with the district, the septic problems in Manchester are multi-faceted. Between the poor, compacted soil, the age of the failing systems, the increase in development and the houses that sit right on the beach, where the water level is high, the probability of a septic system failing is also.

Whitford said the health district routinely inspects residences in this area for high levels of “fecal coliform.”

“Fecal coliform bacteria are used as an indicator of human or animal sewage,” Whitford said. “The higher the levels of bacteria, the more sewage is present.”

Drew said the district looks to isolate a septic problem immediately and work with people to find a solution, even if temporary.

Pendley, like Graves, said she was unaware of the problem when she purchased the house and still has a hard time believing information was knowingly kept from her.

“I truly did not want to believe that anyone would willingly pass that off onto another individual,” Pendley said.

“It becomes an issue between the buyer and the seller and disclosing the appropriate information,” Whitford said. “The health district does get involved when there’s a loan inspection of the property.”

Whitford explained loan companies and even the potential buyers often ask the district to come inspect the property before signing on the dotted line.

Graves did call Drew to get an inspection after she couldn’t figure out why the trail was flooding, but she had already purchased the property. As she suspected, the news wasn’t good.

“When we took samples at her trail,” Drew said, “we found high levels of fecal colifer, levels that rated at the top of our scales.”

“It’s extremely rare that there would actually be a vacation of the premises,” Whitford said. “(But) we have a duty to do whatever it takes to protect the public health.”

Whitford said residents who cannot afford to work with the county immediately have the option of vacating the premises temporarily until repairs can be funded.

“If there’s no one living on the premesis, there’s no sewage,” Whitford said.

Drew reports the only vacations he’s ever experienced have not been homeowners, but renters. Homeowners may not have to vacate their properties, but they do end up paying a hefty price. Graves had to sell another property just to keep up with the payments on the Colchester house.

“(Her renters) moved out in May. That May, June, July, August and September without the income,” Graves said. “That’s at least $10,000 right there.”

Graves is currently having a new system designed. She also plans to hire an attorney and seek restitution for what she believes was a dishonest transaction.

“If they just would have disclosed it, we would have still bought the property,” Graves said. “We would have just been more prepared.”

For more information call Michael Drew, an environmental health specialist for the Kitsap County Health District, at (360) 337-5626 or visit http://kitsapcountyhealth.com.

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