The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, February 1, 2008


BOH tackles the dirty job of revising septic regs

The Carlisle Board of Health (BOH) plays an important role in the community, for the most part operating so quietly behind the scenes that residents may be unaware of the power they wield. The proposed revision to the BOH supplementary sewage disposal regulations is a case in point. It may not sound like riveting reading material, yet these regulations directly affect every resident.

Last changed a decade ago, the document explains, "The Carlisle Board of Health feels the long term health interests in our town can only be served by adopting certain regulations which are stricter than Title 5, which was written as a minimum protection standard ." Additional construction standards and setbacks from wells, waterways and wetlands help insure that the septic systems do not pollute homeowners' water supplies.

The regulations also help determine whether a piece of undeveloped land can support housing, which in turn affects the market value of the land. One proposed change to the BOH regulations will allow certain septic system components to be located closer to wetlands, which will increase building opportunities on some properties which contain wetlands.

Other revisions clarify requirements for larger septic systems, such as those used in condominium developments. Language has been added to promote the use of alternate technology for both upgrades and new construction. Fines of up to $300 per day will be established for violations, and the season for spring high groundwater testing will be shifted two weeks later to extend from March 15 to May 15. Other updates mirror recent changes to the state's Title 5 regulations.

Unlike town bylaws, changes to the supplemental regulations do not need Town Meeting approval. The BOH has distributed copies to the Selectmen and various town boards and committees to gather comments and will hold a Public Hearing to describe the revisions on Thursday, February 7 at 7:30 in the Clark Room of Town Hall. The BOH plans to vote on the changes following the hearing and expects the new supplemental regulations to become effective in March.

Unintended consequences

According to a recent article in the New York Times, there is a high likelihood that the Endangered Species Act, which is specifically designed to protect certain flora and fauna from becoming extinct, is actually undermining rather than protecting those very same species. How could this be? Actually, the logic is pretty simple. If the Environmental Protection Agency declares that the Red-cockaded Woodpecker, which lives in old-growth pine forests in North Carolina, is about to become a protected species, then this creates a big incentive for timber companies who own those woods to log them as quickly as possible, before the law takes effect. Naturally, this destroys the birds' habitat, but otherwise those companies would be stuck with expensive non-producing assets. Then there's the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Passed in 1992, this well-intentioned law led to a sharp drop in the employment of disabled workers, which was exactly the opposite of what was hoped for. Why? Because apparently prospective employers feared that they would not be able to effectively discipline or even fire disabled staff who later proved to be incompetent, so it was easier to avoid hiring them in the first place.

We've all seen good intentions go awry. In fact, this happens so often that the real surprise is that we should find it unusual at all. Who wouldn't want to win a big slug of cash in the lottery? Yet there are many stories of lottery winners who end up broke and miserable. Who would have thought that excess wealth could lead to poverty? Of course, there's a flip side as well — sometimes when the worst happens, things actually turn out for the best. A number of years ago, an acquaintance was involved in a bad traffic accident during a nasty snowstorm. Emergency X-rays taken at the hospital revealed cancer in the abdomen — more bad news! However, because the disease was caught so early, it was quickly and completely cured. Without that accident, who knows what might have happened?

Cause and effect sometimes seem to run backward. Consider taxes for example. If the government needs more money, it would seem to make perfect sense to raise tax rates to bring in more cash. And if the rich are not paying their fair share, shouldn't they be taxed more? Yet data released by the Government Accounting Office (GAO) indicate that lowering tax rates actually increases the amount of total revenue collected, and that reducing marginal tax rates in the upper brackets increases rather than reduces the overall proportion of the tax burden that high-income earners pay. (When interpreting such data, bear in mind the old adage that if you took all the economists in the United States and laid them end to end, they still would not reach a conclusion.)

All this goes to show that Shakespeare was right: things are not always as they seem ("There are more things on Heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy!"). This is useful to keep in mind during the current political season. We all know that most campaign promises will not be kept. This is probably a good thing. Think of the trouble we'd be in if all those promises were actually kept!

The law of unintended consequences applies in some measure to all situations, good and bad. Sometimes (though not always) things are best left alone — they seem to work themselves out somehow. It's just that we don't always know how to tell the difference. Will Rogers had it right; he said that Congress was always the most productive in August — when it was in recess.


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