Pennington County Commissioner George Ferebee, an outspoken opponent of government oversight of septic systems, has been charged with violating county law by failing to obtain a permit for his own septic system.
The Pennington County State’s Attorney’s Office has filed a complaint against Ferebee in magistrate court. The maximum penalty for a violation of the septic regulations is 30 days in the county jail and a $500 fine, but those could be compounded by applying them to each day that the alleged violation has existed.
Ferebee, 75, of rural Hill City, refused to speak in depth with the Journal about the charge.
“Probably shouldn’t say anything at this point,” he said. “There’s a whole lot to be said, but not at this point.”
Actually, he's said a lot on the topic of septic systems already.
In 2010, during his unsuccessful run for a seat in the state Legislature, he told the Journal that his opposition to the then-proposed county ordinance regulating septic systems was the reason he entered politics.
“We have too much government; it’s too expensive and too intrusive,” he said at the time.
He continued to publicly criticize the ordinance throughout its consideration, adoption and implementation. In 2011, he told the Journal, "I want to decide when I'm going to pump and inspect. I don't want a bureaucrat deciding."
Court records indicate that he has also privately defied the ordinance since winning a county commission seat last year.
According to an affidavit from Brittney Molitor, water protection coordinator for the Pennington County Planning Department, the department has had multiple conversations with Ferebee since last year and sent him three notices this year — one each in February, April and June — informing him of the legal requirement to have his septic system pumped, inspected and permitted. The final letter was delivered by certified mail but was not claimed, the affidavit says.
Ferebee’s property is at 11495 Gillette Prairie Road, about 15 miles west of Hill City.
“As of the date of this affidavit,” says the legal document, which was filed Oct. 8, “George Ferebee has not had his on-site wastewater treatment system pumped or inspected and has not obtained a permit for his system, and thus his property is in violation of the ordinance.”
The septic regulations are part of the county’s broader zoning ordinance, which says that each day a violation occurs is considered a separate violation to which the maximum 30 days in jail and $500 fine can be applied. The date of the first violation is the date when the property owner first received notice of it.
The septic regulations in the zoning ordinance date to 2010 and were motivated partly by studies showing that septic systems accounted for a significant portion of the fecal bacteria in Pennington County streams.
The county website says an operating permit for a septic system costs $20 and is valid for six years. Property owners can face additional expenses running into the thousands of dollars if their system is found to need extensive repair or replacement.
By late 2011, dozens of violations of the new ordinance had been unearthed by the inspections that are part of the permitting process, according to Journal reports. The violations included 40 instances of outhouse-like “pit privies,” where human waste was being dumped straight into the ground; 30 instances of leaking septic tanks; and 20 instances of inappropriate septic tanks, including some novel ones constructed of 55-gallon drums, car bodies and railroad ties.
At that time, only 750 of the county’s estimated 5,000 septic systems had been inspected on a prioritized schedule that county officials said could take six years to complete.