New septic system at no cost?

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Courtesy of Bio-Microbics, Inc.

DEAL ISLAND -- When Robert Archibald heard that Maryland offers free septic system upgrades, his gut response was one of, well, skepticism.

After all, his house in Deal Island had a septic system that after more than 30 years of use was working just fine, he said. Additionally, what things in life -- no less, from government -- are actually free, he wondered? Two months ago, spurred in part by the testimonials of his neighbors, Archibald decided to take the plunge. He went through the Maryland Department of the Environment and had a more environmentally friendly septic tank hooked up to his house. Unlike a traditional septic system, it is designed to filter out nitrogen, a nutrient that scientists say pollutes the Chesapeake Bay by causing harmful algae blooms.

'I didn't pay a dime, and I'm very satisfied,' said Archibald, 61. 'It's a win-win for the homeowner, and as for the environment, it helps, too. 'Although MDE has helped put in new nitrogen-removing sewage disposal systems free of charge since July 2007, the number of Maryland homeowners signing up for the program has skyrocketed this year, said Dawn Stoltzfus, a state spokeswoman. 'It's like a grass-roots effort. Once (people) hear their neighbors did it and it worked out well, then they want to do it,' Stoltzfus said.

Under the program, MDE will pay the full cost to install a nitrogen-removing septic system -- which costs $12,000 on average -- and will also maintain it free of charge for five years, she said. Homeowners with failing septic systems are encouraged to apply; however, MDE won't cover costs such as a failing drain field, she said. Jay Prager, deputy program manager for the MDE wastewater permits program, said his department has enough funding to upgrade 600 systems per year. As more people sign up for the program, those who apply will be prioritized based on where their house is located and what shape their old septic system is in, he said. But there's money in hand to upgrade anyone's system now, he said.

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