Kootenai County’s raw septic waste is so nasty it can’t be dumped at city sewage plants or the county landfill.
Yet, winter after winter, private haulers carry it by the tankerful to an 80-acre site near Rathdrum’s Round Mountain - up to 6,000 gallons a load, sometimes 30 loads a month.
There, it’s pumped into two small holding ponds that drain into the ground above the northern edge of the aquifer, the region’s sole source of drinking water.
“I’m just totally bumfuzzled about how they can be allowed to do that,” said Herb Lofton, a neighbor of the site 17 miles north of Coeur d’Alene.
Sewage is dumped at the site year-round but is sprayed on farmland throughout the county during the summer.
County and health district officials say it has been that way for 20 years because there simply hasn’t been an alternative.
But things may change soon.
County commissioners contend they’ve found a safer solution than dumping septic waste at Round Mountain but are unwilling yet to say what it is.
“Suffice it to say, all three commissioners are in accord that this is No. 1 on our priority list and it can’t go on,” Commissioner Ron Rankin said. “I’m comfortable with the fact that we should have an alternative soon.”
Rankin’s efforts to seek waste-disposal choices come as neighbors renew a semiannual fight with the county over the dump site.
And that debate is spawning a new skirmish in a turf war between Rankin and the Panhandle Health District.
Neighbors Lofton and Mike Browning were among about 25 people who recently urged an independent hearing examiner to veto a new permit for the dump site. They fear the site will lead to contamination of their drinking-water wells.
But there is no other place to dump waste from thousands of county septic tanks. And the waste is so concentrated it would shock the systems at city wastewater treatment plants.
“Shutting down the site is kind of like putting a lock on the outhouse,” said Ken Lustig, environmental health expert at the health district. “It winds up being dumped on back roads, on state lands, at Farragut State Park.”
So county commissioners, year after year, have reapproved the permit, most recently in 1995.
The pattern outrages neighbors.
“We have a list of things the county pointed out that had to be done to maintain that site,” Browning said. “A lot of those haven’t been done.”
Dumping is only supposed to occur on weekdays, but Browning’s seen trucks there on weekends and holidays. Since no one is monitoring daily travel there, it’s unclear whether more sludge is being dumped than allowed by law, he said.
The dump’s owner, Roto-Rooter owner Gary Adams, refused to talk about the site.
Health officials say problems at the site may be overrated.
“Is the site presenting a hazard? That’s not been demonstrated at this particular time,” Lustig said. “Should it be managed better? You bet.”
After neighbors complained about the volume of waste being dumped at the site, Rankin on Monday accused health officials of “dereliction of duty” for not monitoring dumping.
“This is one of those things that’s been put off and put off and put off,” Rankin said. “That isn’t my idea of what the health department’s responsibility is.”
Lustig, meanwhile, maintained the county is the agency that approved the permit and set the guidelines. If the site isn’t being properly monitored, he said, it’s because the county hasn’t enforced its permit.
Adams should be responsible for the cost of any requirements, Lustig said.
“The county specified in the permit two years ago that they wanted us to do things we don’t have the resources to do,” Lustig said, referring to establishing ground-water monitoring.
A hearing examiner in coming weeks is expected to recommend whether to allow the site to stay in use. Commissioners at that time will unveil their alternative, Rankin said.
, DataTimes MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: BIG STINK The problem: Septic waste is being dumped at a site near Rathdrum’s Round Mountain. The solution: Kootenai County commissioners contend they have one; they aren’t saying what it is. Key quote: “I’m comfortable with the fact that we should have an alternative soon,” Commissioner Ron Rankin says.