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County and private businesses combine to unplug a problem

Whoever said government regulators and industry can’t work together toward a common goal?

At least they can in the case of the Bremerton-Kitsap County Health District and Kitsap businesses involved in on-site sewage treatment.

“It’s refreshing for people in the health department — regulators — to work with people in the industry side by side,” said Carl Zimmer, owner and operator of Zimmer Construction, a Kingston firm.

Zimmer is also a member of the Washington On-Site Sewage Association (WOSSA), an organization that is expected to sponsor what’s known as a Self-Help On-site Sewage program.

Health district inspector Jodie Holdcroft knows that a noticeable number of low-income residents don’t have the funds available to repair or replace aging sewage systems. Meanwhile, failing systems can cause blocks, leaks and backups.

Residents, neighbors and, in some cases, nearby streams or watersheds suffer environmental consequences.

“We figured there had to be something that could be done,” said Jerry Deeter, the director of environmental health for the health district.

A committee of health district and industry officials interested in making a difference was formed.

The group is dubbed the Self-Help On-Site Sewage Repair Committee.

Industry reps plan to select two or three candidates a year and help those families or residents repair failing sewage systems. Volunteer time and equipment are donated for the effort.

Deeter said the concept is similar to the Kitsap Homebuilders Association’s Christmas in April program, which involves volunteers who repair the homes and yards of residents on fixed incomes.

This is how the Self-Help on Site program works:

Health inspectors, such as Holdcroft, who perform on-site inspections of sewage systems, will identify program candidates. An assessment form is filled out and industry officials on the committee review them and make the final selection.

South Kitsap resident Ada Beglau, an 86-year-old widow, is the first beneficiary. She and her husband bought their property around 1958 when a septic system was installed. That system held up well, but in recent months had started to back up into Beglau’s home to the point where she couldn’t even wash clothes.

Her limited income — a combination of Social Security checks and her late husband’s pension — leaves only about $100 a month extra after all the bills are paid and food purchased. Fixing her failing system would cost $4,500.

Beglau is thankful for her recent repairs.

“Boy, oh boy,” Beglau said. “I can wash clothes now and do the things I need to do. I would have been up a creek.”

A slew of local businesses donated materials and volunteer time, including Zimmer Construction, HD Fowler, Kurt’s Pre-Cast, Tom and David Needham, Brent Fox Action On-Site Services and Fast Track.

Seven volunteer laborers from the health district helped install the system.

Zimmer, a past president of WOSSA, has wanted to see a similar program installed for years. He wants it to grow locally and statewide.

“I would like to see the program grow by gathering more community support,” Zimmer said.

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