Editorial: Septic decisions really stink for Farmington man

Published 1:52 pm Tuesday, April 30, 2024

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Arnny Riddle is no stranger to hard work.

And he’s no dummy, either.

But what happened to this Davie native at the hands of officials from the state and county are just plain wrong. And the $20,000 settlement he received is nothing for the stress caused to this quiet, kind and good man.

Anyone who knows Arnny wouldn’t be surprised that he decided to build himself a house. Yes, he has those skills, and is even a licensed contractor. They probably wouldn’t be surprised that he had purchased a lot in Farmington – his home community – many years ago.

And because he knows Farmington, Arnny knows that the soil there isn’t the best for a septic system. If fact, it’s among the worst.

So he did what any reasonable person would have done. He called the environmental health section of the Davie County Health & Human Services Department to get a perk test – a measurement of whether the soil is suitable for a  septic system.

We’re leaving names out here on purpose, but Arnny’s wife Jenny has let county commissioners know more than once who the employees are who caused problems.

Well, the inspector came out and said no problem, you can install a traditional septic system here. So Arnny did what Arnny does: he went to work on his house.

A couple of years pass, Arnny is about finished with his house, and he calls a septic system installer. That installer had been told to contact environmental health any time a permit had been issued by that initial inspector. It turns out that inspector not only no longer works for the county or state, they lost their license to inspect soils.

But that’s not Arnny’s fault, and a new inspector and an official from the state (That official also no longer works in that job.) go to his Farmington Road home and tell him that first permit is revoked. His only option, they said, was to install this new-fangled system that would be next to impossible to maintain and potentially cost thousands of dollars a year; plus, there may be a little smell.

That state official even recommended a person who could test the soil for that system. It turns out that person he recommended was a co-worker – a subordinate – and of course, he recommended the same “bells and whistles” septic system.

Arnny was almost finished with his house, and now he was wondering if he would ever be able to move in. He had spent countless hours making sure every board was cut just right, every angle matched perfectly. He had hauled the materials in himself, and placed truckloads of rock to help with drainage.

He even changed the design to accommodate the extra tanks this new system would require. He cut trees down in the middle of the summer because they said the trees had to go for this new system, designed to clean the waste before it is gently sprayed back on top of the ground.

Arnny and Jenny had to move into their house with no working toilets and sinks. Cabinets that had been put on hold weren’t installed.

But they started to think. Thankfully, they started to question what was happening.

Arnny traveled across Farmington, and found several septic systems that had been approved. He talked to the owners of some, and learned the strengths and weaknesses.

He hired a lawyer.

Arnny’s saving grace was another soil test, this time by a private soil scientist. He and Jenny said that high-up state official was bound and determined to be the first to have one of these new systems installed, and thought they had found their patsy; and that the other employees either agreed or just went along. That private soil scientist even said the state messed up on this one.

Arnny and Jenny had a hybrid septic system installed, and it has been working fine.

Arnny and Jenny want other people to know that it’s OK to question decisions by people in authority, and they’re right. It’s OK to get your own “experts” to examine the same situation.

Yes, Arnny Riddle is a quiet, unassuming, hard-working man.

But that doesn’t make him anyone’s patsy.

– Mike Barnhardt