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Tacoma requires sewer line inspections before home sale, or major remodel…but why (or more to the point, why now)?

This article outlines an interesting requirement that the Tacoma city council passed that will take place in October of this year. In short, before any home can be sold or undergo significant remodeling, their must be an inspection of the sewer lines.

The reason is outlined in this article from last week, and basically states that older private sewer systems are allowing rainwater to get into their lines (probably due to degradation). As a result, the public sewer treatment systems get overloaded and can cause raw or almost-raw sewage to seep into the streets and sometimes directly into commencement bay.

The natural consequence of this requirement is that that home sales will suffer. Obviously, this is because in the current market buyers have most of the leverage. If a seller finds there is a problem in the sewer line, he may have to repair it (likely a very costly endeavor), or may have to reduce the price on the home significantly. Worst of all, the seller may simply lose the sale altogether.

The real question is why now? Does the City of data that shows this is an urgent need? While we are all sensitive to environmental concerns, I would hope that the government is trying to also be sensitive to their constituency. Given the current housing climate, significant requirements placed on home sales ought to be reserved until more robust times.

The redefining of “Decommission” in the Model Toxics Control Act

Commercial property owners sometimes run across the unexpected on their property during excavations and/or renovations. One of the most difficult (and feared) situation is that of locating an underground fuel storage tank on your property. The reason why this can be challenging to a landowner is because of how stringent Washington State’s environmental regulations are. The Model Toxics Control Act (“MTCA”, or “MoTCA” as it is often called) provides the statutory authority to demand clean-up/remediation of these underground tanks. The Washington Administrative Code, section 173-340, outlines with specificity the limitations to remediation of these tanks. On March 3, 2010, according to a Board of Health Resolution No. 2010-4225, the manner in which tanks are “decommissioned” was altered.

Up until March 3, 2010, an option that property owners had in decommissioning these tanks was to extract whatever fuel remained, then fill it with inert material. The tank would stay underground, but it would be harmless as it would contain no fuel and would be full of soil. This is no longer an option. “Decommissioning” now means that the tank must be fully removed from the property. This is significant, as the costs involved in removing a tank vs. filling it with inert material, is substantial.

Court clarifies when property damage occurs

The Washington Construction Law blog submitted a recent post about a decision in Division III Court of Appeals.  In Walla Walla College v. Ohio Cas Ins. Co., No. 26647–8–III, the court had to decide when damage occurred to property from leaking of underground storage tanks.

Walla Walla College obtained an insurance policy with Ohio Cas Ins. Co. covering the installation of gas tanks on its property in the early 1990s.  Though the tanks failed in 2001 (leaking gas resulting in property damage) Walla Walla College claimed that the policy from the early 1990s should cover the cleanup costs because the tank failure was caused to faulty installation by an construction company.

Washington Construction Law blog sums it up as follows:

“Division III held that mere stress to the tank was not enough to constitute “property damage” and therefore denied coverage for the loss under the 1990-1992 policies.  First, the Court noted that the “your product” exclusion” negated any coverage for loss in value to the tank itself.  Next, the Court distinguished continuous trigger cases such asGroul Construction Co., Inc. v. Ins. Co. of North America, 11 Wn.App 632 (1974) by noting that while “a process began” in 1991, the “property damage did not occur until the tank failed in September 2001, long after the policies had expired.”

Washington Environmental Practices Impact Gravel Pits

Chambers Bay #6TAccording to The News Tribune, Puget Sound area municipalities are having to balance the needs of their growing populations with the impact to their ecosystems.  At the heart of the debate is whether sand and gravel mines are going to be allowed in Western Washington, with many opponents asserting that the Puget Sound is simply too complex an environment to support these installations.  Proponents of gravel mines argue that they are a necessary element of development.

This article outlines the growing tension between powerful environmental lobbies and the business community.  At present, organizations such as People for Puget Sound are pushing for ever more limitations and environmental regulations for gravel pits.

Companies like Glacier Northwest argue that they are doing all in their power to lessen the impact to the environment that their activities produce, however, they argue that their service is necessary.  In the end, they hope that their activities will yield a net positive effect (like the Chambers Bay Golf Course).