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Failing Septic Spawns Request for Sewer

Second time in a year for Boswell Lane.

The county must decide, for the second time in a year, if a property on Boswell Lane should be allowed sewer service.

A home on the 10400 block of Boswell has applied for sewer service as a result of a failing septic system. “It’s showing signs of failure,” said Alan Soukup of the County Department of Environmental Protection. “An on-site solution is not likely.” The property owner did not return The Almanac’s calls for comment.

Although the property lies outside of the county’s sewer envelope, inside the Piney Branch impact area and would not be allowed to receive sewer under the Master Plan, a failed septic system trumps those concerns.

However, some are concerned that the septic system has not actually failed. “You have to meet the requirements that are in the Piney Branch Restricted Access Policy,” said Susanne Lee, president of West Montgomery Citizens Association.

According to those requirements, a septic system must have failed, not simply show signs of failure, in order to qualify for public sewer service.

Limiting sewer service is a powerful method to control density. Even though areas of Potomac are zoned for two houses to the acre, in some areas many fewer houses can be built because there is no sewer service and the ground will only allow limited septic fields. Exceptions to sewer boundaries can lead to more development by allowing access to sewer.

“You’re sort of weighing the environmental impact of crossing the stream versus the impacts of failing septic,” said Keith Levchenko of the County Council Staff.

The current property, the Warner property, is just a few hundred feet from the R.A.M. Investing property which had requested approval for a sewer line last November.

Their request was approved on the last day of a lame-duck council session without having been placed on the agenda, and generating an uproar among Potomac civic activists. West Montgomery Citizens Association officials were as much upset by the overturning of a provision of the Potomac Master Plan without notice as they were about the sewer extension.

The R.A.M. site raises some questions, the site’s approval was approved only if one specific alignment was found acceptable by the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission (WSSC). The line to the Warner property would be coming from the opposite direction.

If both were approved, WSSC would not be likely to want to extend two sewer lines, from opposite directions, to two properties which are very close to each other. “From our perspective, an engineering perspective, we would only want to put in one line,” said Chuck Brown, spokesman for WSSC. “Everybody is aware that there is another proposed sewer.”

The council, as final arbiter of sewer issues in the county, would need to decide which alignment it would be willing to allow. “One way or the other, it would have to come back to the council,” Levchenko said.

Even if it is approved, that does not guarantee that WSSC will bring sewer to the property. “The approval just means you’re eligible,” Levchenko said.

Typically, WSSC will charge the customer for the expense of putting in the sewer line, less the cost of any additional hook-ups they may add along the way.

“We issued a letter of findings to the Warners on May 14,” Brown said. He said in that letter, WSSC states that extending sewer service to the property would cost the Warners just over $127,000.