Jacksonport Faces Septic Issues

Residents in the Town of Jacksonport are the latest on the County of Door’s list of those required to replace failing septic tanks and wastewater treatment systems.

Tests completed in Jacksonport in April and May failed 28 out of 32 systems, an 87 percent failure rate for a town with a population of 800 people. Failing systems included the wastewater treatment system at the Jacksonport Town Hall, which was remodeled in the winter of 2004 – 2005.

The town board made a request in 2008 to the Door County Soil and Water Department (DCSWD) that the town be bumped up on the testing schedule, mainly because of beach advisories and closures in recent years, according to County Sanitarian John Teichtler. The DCSWD completed a five-year series of beach and storm water runoff testing in 2007.

Testing of storm water runoff and beaches by the DCSWD and students from the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh led to conclusions and theories that leaking septic tanks and bad drain fields all over Door County are adding effluent to Green Bay and Lake Michigan, helping to increase levels of E. coli in the water. Of the failing systems that are older than 20 years and have steel tanks, about 90 percent are failing, according to assistant county sanitarian Chris Olson.

Some homeowners had information for the sanitarian on when their tanks were installed – many dated to the late 1960s – others did not. In those cases, assistant county sanitarians took soil borings to determine if septic waste was leaking into the surrounding soil.

After a septic or wastewater treatment system is deemed failing by the sanitarian, the owner has one year to replace the system. The cost of a standard septic system for a three-bedroom house is between $3,000 and $4,000, Teichtler said. However, if the system must be installed in Door County rock, blasting can add another $1,500 to installation costs. State financial assistance is available for homeowners who qualify, Teichtler said. One of the main requirements for financial assistance qualification is that the failing system was installed before 1978. Another requirement is that the annual family income is $42,000 or less.

To replace the short-lived and failing steel tanks, manufacturers now make plastic or pre-fabricated concrete holding tanks.

“Plastic tanks can last at least 50 years,” Teichtler said. “However, if someone is careless and drives over it, the tank will likely be crushed and cave in.”

The pre-fabricated concrete tanks last 20 to 30 years, Teichtler said. However, these tanks are prone to deterioration due to a build-up of sulfuric gases in the tanks. These gases leach into the pores of the cement and corrode the shell.

“We’ve seen some cement tanks in southern Door County that are only 10 years old and are deteriorating,” Teichtler said. “We are working with the concrete manufacturers of cement tanks, trying to get them to work with Portland cement to mix an additive into their concrete that will prevent deterioration.”

Teichtler said his department is working with the Wisconsin Department of Commerce to try to require concrete tank manufacturers to mix the additive in cement for tanks statewide.

The Door County Sanitarian Department has completed inspections on about a quarter of the county septic systems in five years, Olson said. Expectations are that inspections and work on the remainder of the county comprehensive sanitary survey will take another 15 years. Supervisors for the Town of Liberty Grove requested that the north end of the peninsula be next on the inspection list.