Jon Unruh doesn't understand why the county would allow his neighbor to build a septic leach field (rocks at right, in background) so close to Coleman Creek. - Jim Craven

Creekside septic stirs discontent

Jon Unruh is mystified at Jackson County officials who resolve to clean up local waterways but then allow his neighbor to build a septic leach field next to Coleman Creek.

"I don't get it," said the 49-year-old Coleman Creek Road resident. "I guess they can do what they want."

The septic leach lines have been installed just below the road and are 25 to 30 feet from the creek on a two-acre property owned by Ruth Valine Rogers of Belfair, Wash.

"This is not ideal, there's no doubt about it," said County Development Director Kelly Madding.

But she said the county has required extra precautions to ensure no wastewater gets into the creek.

"I don't think the decision to allow this repair is going to contaminate the creek," she said.

Madding said that because the work was considered a repair for an existing septic system, the normal 50-foot setback required on new construction didn't apply.

Three wells nearby, the road and the existing house site all limit where the septic system can be installed, she said.

Recently, county and state officials announced plans to clean up local creeks, including finding leaking septic systems that contaminate them.

"This is really cleaning it up," said Unruh's wife, Sandy, pointing to the septic field.

Her husband showed photos of flooding along the creek in the past and he said the storm waters would undermine the leach field.

Madding said a lot of factors are weighed in a decision to allow someone to build septic systems relatively close to a stream.

She said the soil on the Rogers property is better than many areas of the county that have a thick clay layer. The soil on this property allows the wastewater to percolate down, said Madding.

In addition to the leach field, the septic system has a sand filter located near the house that significantly cleans up the wastewater before it goes into the field.

As a further precaution, the county required that a heavy clay soil layer be installed between the leach field and the creek to prevent any migration of wastewater. The county required heavy boulders so floodwaters don't undermine the leach field.

After Unruh complained about the septic field, Madding sent two county planners out to look at it Monday. She said they determined that all the precautions had been addressed.

The previous septic system was only a redwood box, and county officials didn't find any evidence of a leach field on the property. Madding said the new system is an improvement over what was used before. She said the house will only be allowed to have three bedrooms to prevent taxing the septic system.

Given all the considerations regarding the property, Madding said, "It's a balancing act. They needed to repair their septic system. They had a very small area."

Madding said there is no minimum distance to a creek for a repair of an existing system, but there is a 100-foot setback required from a well. There are two wells on the property and another one nearby on a neighbor's property that limited where the leach field could be located.

Unruh, who grew up along the creek and remembers a time when he could drink water out of it, said he doesn't have anything against the owner of the property. "I don't think she's done anything illegal," he said. Rogers could not be reached for comment Monday.

Unruh said he would like to see the creeks cleaned up in the valley, but added he doesn't plan to fight the county's approval of his neighbor's septic system. He does think the county should take more precautions to prevent contamination of creeks in the future.

"It doesn't affect me, it affects the creek," he said.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 776-4476 or

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