By Chuck Duncan
The Federal and civil lawsuits against Culpeper are dismissed. The county never got an opportunity to prove its case. Allegations were made but few were proven. I prefer to look at facts when analyzing an issue.
Pump and haul (P&H) is about transporting sewage by trucks on county roads. The issue is, “Does an applicant have enough hardship to justify putting raw sewage on county roads?” In the past, when a septic drain field failed, the choice was to abandon the building served by the septic field or switch to P&H. Today there are over a dozen alternative technologies that replace septic fields.
By 2012, Commonwealth codes changed to reflect new technologies. Culpeper’s Planning Administrator, John Egertson, rewrote the County’s P&H policy to reflect new code and to explicitly eliminate outdated policy. The Board of Supervisors adopted the new policy in July 2012.
Culpeper’s P&H policy requires three demonstrations. First, the owner demonstrates a “… unique situation exists that goes beyond simple hardship.” Second, the owner demonstrates a temporary situation. And third, the owner demonstrates (part of the p&h agreement) a last-resort situation, that is: “WHEREAS, no practical economic method exists, … except by pumping and hauling to a Department approved sewage disposal facility;” …”
Ownership, Building, & Hardship
The Islamic Center of Culpeper’s (ICC) case was unique. The ICC was not the owner, and there was no building to abandon if they failed to get a permit. The stated hardship was “”The soil is bad and cannot support a traditional septic system.” With the sale not yet completed, any hardship associated with the land to be purchased was self-imposed. Does this hardship justify additional risks to the community from the transport of raw sewage? Finally, there was no statement about the economics of alternate systems.
BOS Meetings – Omissions & Misdirection
On Mar 1, 2016 Mr. Egertson, the County Administrator, told the Board of Supervisors (BOS) that the application was in order without mention of 2012 policy. The county attorney’s job includes reviewing contracts. Because the application called for the owner’s signature, the attorney asked for time to review legality. The issue was deferred until the April meeting.
At the April 2016 BOS meeting, Mr. Egertson announced changes to the application. The March application was not in order. Again, he made no statement about current 2012 policy. Instead, he undermined current policy by providing a list of P&H approvals going back to 1999. A 2001 case renewed a 1993 P&H for a proposed church, a situation similar to the ICC’s proposed mosque. Mr. Egertson’s March statement that the application was in order, and his inclusion of the 2001/1993 case set the grounds for lawsuits when the permit was rejected in April.
An applicant builds his case for approval by demonstrating he has met the requirements. Supervisors that voted against the permit (Chase, Deal, Frazier and Walker) based their rejection on the failure to demonstrate hardship required by 2012 policy. Wanting to buy and build on land that won’t support a drain field is not hardship. Also, no proof was provided that alternative sewage handling systems were not economically feasible.
Adherence to policy assures that every applicant gets equal treatment by the Board. Facts got lost in the noise. The media focused on the postponed decision and rejection of the permit. Few focused on current policy. Supervisors had every right to question and reject the application based on the current, 2012 policy.
The facts tell the story. In March and April, contrary to statements, County staff failed to present a complete application to the Board. County staff undermined current policy with reference to out of date decisions.
The ICC, or anyone, has the right to sue. This is why it is critical for county staff to screen all applications for completeness. Both applicants and Supervisors need to know what CURRENT policy is so that fair and equal treatment can be assured for all who have true hardship.
Chuck Duncan is the Republican Candidate for Jeffersonton District Supervisor.