by Jared Strong, Iowa Capital Dispatch

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Iowa RV Park Barred from Use

The owner of a newly opened park western Iowa RV Park placed a septic field too close to a lake and has been barred from using it, according to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

Zachary Terry, who opened his Sunset at Blue Oasis RV Park near Onawa on April 1, said he plans to lobby state lawmakers to intervene. The septic field — meant to accommodate the waste from 100 RV sites of the campground — cost about $65,000 to install, Terry said.

“Literally, I have fought with them, it’s been a year,” Terry said of the DNR. “This has been the most stressful time.”

The department recently fined Terry $7,000 for installing the septic system without a construction permit as part of a settlement that is expected to allow partial use of that system. It was built to contain solid waste in several 2,000-gallon tanks and route wastewater into the ground of a 2,500-square-feet septic field.

Terry said the septic field has been detached from the system, and he plans to pump the waste from the tanks periodically and haul it to a treatment plant in Sioux City at the potential cost of about $1,000 per week.

Terry owns a business that installs and repairs septic systems and pumps and hauls waste from them. He said he knows the regulations that govern the systems “like the back of my hand” and got preliminary approval for the design of the RV park’s system. He applied for the construction permit in April 2021.

But the DNR determined in August that the RV park’s system was subject to more restrictions than a typical private septic system because it serves so many people, and its septic field needed to be at least 400 feet from nearby Blue Lake, rather than 100 feet for smaller systems.

What are the DNR’s Concerns?

There were two problems: Terry had already started construction of the septic system, and the strip of land for the park is too narrow for that 400-feet separation distance, which is meant to prevent waste from contaminating lakes.

“He thought he was familiar with the rules, but he was familiar with the wrong set of rules,” said Dan Olson, a senior environmental specialist for the DNR.

But there is another wrinkle: Terry argues the DNR is wrongly classifying a marshy, wildlife management area as part of the lake. That area abuts the RV park, and during periods of drought it has little or no water.

“Right now, there’s no water,” Terry said.

The main portion of Blue Lake lies more than 3,000 feet to the east of the RV park. A DNR map of the scythe-shaped lake shows it stretches north, curves back to the west but ends about a mile away from Terry’s property. However, the DNR decided that the wetland area should be considered part of the lake because a narrow waterway connects them.

How the Park is Currently Operating

Terry said he reluctantly agreed to pay a fine to settle the matter with the hope that it would expedite his ability to accept waste from his new park customers. He has told incoming campers to hold their waste until he gets DNR approval for his plan to pump it out of the storage tanks periodically. He hopes a change in the rules or a review of the lake’s boundaries will allow him to use the new septic field in the future.

People can camp at the Sunset RV park for $308 or $343 per week, depending on the site.

Iowa Capital Dispatch is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Iowa Capital Dispatch maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Kathie Obradovich for questions: [email protected]. Follow Iowa Capital Dispatch on Facebook and Twitter.

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