Members and volunteers in the community of Tierra Del Mar, just north of Pacific City began reaching out to Surfrider last summer with concerns about a mega home newly constructed dangerously close to the beach. The majority of the concerns revolved around two key issues: 1) the smell of sewage and the proximity of the home’s septic tank and field to the beach and a nearby creek; and, 2) the location of a fence within a public right of way, impairing access to the beach.

So Surfrider got to work looking into the details of the houses’ construction, permitting and state requirements for on-site septic. Upon further investigation, Surfrider learned that the septic installation (according to Tillamook County) had never been “fully approved on site”, was sized for a 2 bedroom home, sited without proper setbacks from an open stream and the beach. After unsuccessful complaints to the county to take action on the septic system, Surfrider filed a formal complaint with the Department of Environmental Quality in the summer of 2017.

A) The 5 bedroom and 5 bathroom home from above
B) Location of 2 bedroom septic drain field, note it’s proximity to the creek and adjacent flows on the beach
C) Public beach access, fence not pictured in this photo.

Victory! Nearly a year after filing repeated complaints with DEQ and directly addressing the County Planning Committee and County Commissioners, Tillamook County took action to address the concerns of both the septic system and the fence. The septic system was one of our most primary concerns as it did not meet many of the standards required to protect the public’s health. As you can see from the photo above, the proximity to the beach and the creek is frightening, especially given the complaint of beachgoers of sewage smells on the beach.

The green tank pictured above is the septic tank following removal for relocation and pre-treatment.

The homeowner was required to completely relocate and enlarge the septic system to both meet required environmental set-backs and protect the health of beachgoers. The new septic system will be appropriately sized for a 5 bedroom home and will be pumped off-site, to a location further east up the hill and away from the beach. Immediate actions were also required by the county to relocate the fence out of the public right of way. While many community members have major heartburn that this house slipped through the permitting process in the first place (and likely should have never been allowed construction at this site), the “workaround” of pumping the septic uphill and away from the beach was suitable to meet our immediate public health concerns.

If we have anything positive to say about the house, it’s elevated and represents strong adaptation strategy for building close to the hazards of the ocean; however, we ultimately believe that construction this close to the beach is short-sited.