BLACKFOOT – Bruce Olenick from the Department of Environmental Quality met with Bingham County officials Thursday afternoon to discuss the current status of different projects around the area as well as the current state of affairs surrounding the sale of the old Road and Bridge Shop. Olenick touched on topics such as septic systems, funding for infrastructure, and the growth of the area.
Regarding septic systems, Olenick said the DEQ continues to suggest that new developments in the area connect to sewer services whenever reasonable because they do not want to risk the possibility of contaminating drinking water systems. He furthered DEQ’s position on the subject when discussing the status of landfills and how they require testing annually to ensure that they are not contaminating ground water.
Commissioner Whitney Manwaring asked about the different ways they test landfills and what the information tells them from the samples. Olenick explained that the samples provide contamination levels in the soil in relation to the water table. Other notable comments surrounding the issues that can be caused by a landfill included the length of the time it can take for a landfill to be safe and ways they can use liners to create a barrier, which is more standard practice now.
Olenick also said they are cautiously optimistic that the infrastructure part of President Joe Biden’s most recent stimulus package will allow aid to be provided to municipalities that under the current metrics in Idaho do not receive grants and financial aid to help bolster their wastewater treatment facilities. DEQ currently helps with low interest loans and sometimes offers grants to city governments, but certain cities — based on need and population — do not always qualify for the grant funds. He noted that DEQ would like to see funds become available to everyone so that bolstering of their treatment facilities can be provided, but currently waits for the final decision regarding the details.
Other questions posed to Olenick from Planning and Development Director Tiffany Olsen surrounded the verbiage of what is considered reasonable in relation to connecting to a municipal system rather than installing septic tanks. Olenick explained that it depends on the local code and how it is worded, because what is considered “reasonable” depends on how well it is written into the local ordinances. He noted that the size of the development may take part in aiding in the decision for deciding what would be reasonable because the cost incurred and the distance lines may need to be placed would play a factor. Manwaring asked if certain elements could be taken into account such as having to run lines through lava rock, to which the answer was yes, things like that may be taken into account when deciding reasonability.
Dusty Whited, Public Works director, also asked questions regarding the process to have a deed restored for the former Road and Bridge shop. Due to a former fuel spill, they had a restriction placed on the deed by DEQ. The county is in the process of selling the property, but the closing is contingent upon the restriction being lifted. Currently in the state of Idaho, there has never been a restriction of this nature lifted and the first request is being processed elsewhere in the state, making Bingham County the second county to ask for such a waiver. Olenick was honest, expressing that it is not an easy process to have it lifted but would be happy to help where he could.
The contamination has been tested and will be “risked out” according to Whited, meaning that they will run the chance of it not contaminating any ground water as it has not penetrated deep enough to be a concern at this point. The county has already removed the fuel tanks where the spill occurred, and the area will continue to be monitored. The risk level of contamination is low enough that it qualifies for residential quality, according to Whited’s comments on Thursday.
The county will continue to work toward clearing the deed restriction with DEQ so the purchaser will have a clean deed.