Government has grabbed power by imposing septic tank laws under the guise of protecting public health and safety, rails George Ferebee, who refuses to go silently from public life.
Water-related diseases cause 3.4 million deaths in the world every year, according to UNICEF, so it’s easy to see how water protection might fit under the guise of health and safety. Septic tank laws certainly are an unlikely means of grabbing power.
Ferebee was charged in 2015 over allegations his rural Hill City property’s septic system lacks a permit, required to prevent septic tanks from leaking into streams and watersheds.
Ferebee believes the nature of his landholding makes it exempt, and he has repeatedly challenged the law's legality. Over the years, city and county governments have rejected the departing Pennington County commissioner’s complaints, as have the state Water Management Board and voters — Ferebee lost to fellow Republican Ron Rossknecht by 32-points in the June primary election. So far, judges have also rejected his arguments.
This country affords wonderful freedoms — limited by well-considered rules like those that keep your sewage from making others sick.
One of those cherished freedoms is the right to tilt quixotically at windmill giants — or in Ferebee’s case, septic tank laws. After eight years of defeats in his ongoing political and legal campaigns, most people would recognize a lost cause for what it is. A law is a law, and if you can’t convince others to change it, you live within it. Flout the law, and you must pay the fine. Speeders, thieves and frauds confront this lesson daily. Contest a violation and you also pay the court costs.
Unless you’re George Ferebee, and you can convince a small, publicly funded board of cronies to back your quixotic campaign.
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On Oct. 9, the nine-member board of the West Dakota Water Development District, which collects a total of about $200,000 annually from property taxpayers west of the Cheyenne River in Pennington County, voted 6-3 to commit up to $7,500 to fight local regulation of septic systems. The board’s mission is to protect water resources, and it’s hard to see how funding one man’s legal challenge does that.
This wasteful mistake isn’t on Ferebee. He can pick fights and pay the consequences. This inappropriate and misguided use of public funds is on the six members of the board who flushed up to $7,500 down the drain. Luckily, voters will get a chance to pass judgment on their action Tuesday.
Even West Dakota board member Jeannette Deurloo, who opposes the septic tank rules and admits Ferebee recruited her to the water board, describes the $7,500 authorization as an improper use of public funds to support a private legal fight.
“This is not the purpose of what we’re here for,” said Deurloo. “This is not in our bylaws that we finance legal aid to citizens.”
Three of those who voted in favor of financially backing Ferebee’s crusade — Ken Moss, Michael Mueller and Ernest Getty — face challengers at the polls next Tuesday.
For years, Ferebee has promoted himself as a warrior against wasteful public spending. Apparently he is OK with waste of all kinds when it involves himself.