Water Is Legacy for Late Michigan Lawmaker

     LANSING, Mich. (CN) — A congresswoman died this weekend as lawmakers consider legislation she proposed that would end Michigan’s distinction of being the only state in the country lacking uniform regulations on residential sewage-treatment systems.
     Before she died of a heart attack Saturday, while hiking with her daughters, Rep. Julie Plawecki had proposed House Bills 5732 and 5733 with fellow Democratic Rep. Gretchen Driskell.
     Only 11 of Michigan’s 83 counties, along with three townships, have implemented regulations on point-of-sale transactions, requiring an inspection of the homes sewer system before a home can be purchased.
     Many beaches in the state have been forced to temporarily close down as a result of high levels of E. coli from sewer-water contamination. As recently as June 22, Sterling State Park Beach and Luna Pier City Beach, in Monroe County, were shut down as a result of E. coli.
     To change this trend, H.B. 5732 would amend state environmental law to require mandatory inspections of residential sewer systems before a property can be purchased. The bill also calls for a database to help maintain on-site septic tanks.
     “We are the water state and we have to be protective of it,” Driskell said in an interview.
     The partnering legislation, H.B. 5733, would allocate $3 million from the state general fund to cover the cost of creating that database, along with hiring and training staff.
     A representative for Driskell’s office noted that user fees would later take up the funding mantle.
     “The fee would be used for the development of a state-wide database of septic systems,” Driskell’s office said in an email. “It could also be used to provide grants for local health departments for distressed homeowners.”
     Driskell noted that the bill comes a time when water-pollution and public-health concerns are rampant.
     While lead contamination in Flint has been at the forefront, Driskell noted that summer heat makes people more apt to think about water contamination.
     “We wanted to release it to the public when people are out swimming and enjoying our waters,” Driskell said in an interview.
     Michigan is the only state in the country without a uniform septic plan, but Driskell said problems in various counties drove spurred some to action.
     When Washtenaw County first implemented standard regulating policies, for example, 18 percent of homes were discovered to have a failing or inadequate onsite wastewater system, the congresswoman noted.
     “Each county has a little bit different way of doing it,” Driskell said. “The idea is to have a common minimum standard. The goal would be if you are selling a property you would have to have an inspection.”
     The new legislation would allow for 180 days for someone to correct a problem situation. Driskell emphasized that the law would make funds available for low-income homes.
     “This is really important,” Driskell said. “I think a lot of people just assume that are waters are fine and they’re not unless we take care of them.”
     The death this weekend of 54-year-old Plawecki, who co-sponsored the bill, came as a shock to Driskell.
     “She was totally healthy,” Driskell said. “It’s a tragedy. I was partnering with her on this. She had put many, many hours into it. I’m going to make sure it goes forward.”

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