The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency is investigating how Carver County's environmental staff allowed an illegal septic system to operate at the county-owned Waconia ballroom for 18 months.

The MPCA inquiry, which began recently, is directed at the county's Office of Environmental Services, which last year told the County Board that the system was legal and had passed inspections.

The office accepted a compliance inspection report in 2008 even though it was prepared by the same man who installed the system about 30 years ago. Questions were raised almost immediately about the accuracy of the report, with critics claiming that the septic system was too close to the area groundwater to be legal.

That was confirmed last month when the septic system was found to be closer to the groundwater than the 36 inches allowed by state law.

Carver County Commissioner Tom Workman, who led the charge to have the ballroom septic system reinspected, said Thursday he was not surprised the state is looking into how the county handled the case.

His concern all along was "why isn't anybody listening or looking at the evidence here?" Workman said. "Nobody wanted to look at it."

Administrator Dave Hemze said Carver County is working on its reply to the MPCA. But he said he does not believe the county did anything wrong in its handling of the septic system approval.

"We followed the MPCA rules. That will be our basic response," Hemze said Thursday. "They are playing Monday-morning quarterback."

Digging deeper?

The MPCA's concerns were outlined in a letter sent to Mike Lein, manager of the county's Office of Environmental Services.

In the letter, the MPCA points out that, although county staffers reviewed the findings of the inspector, Marty Ziermann, they did not discover the problems with the system.

"There were issues raised about the validity of the inspection findings," Gary Eddy, an MPCA supervisor, wrote to the county. "The MPCA would have expected that after ... staff had done a complete review ... they would have found that there was a problem with Mr. Ziermann's compliance inspection."

Eddy, who is supervisor of the MPCA's Metro Unit, said last week that, because this is an open investigation, he could not comment further on the case or what possible sanctions the county and Ziermann might face.

The MPCA, Eddy concluded in his letter, "wants to know if there is an explanation as to why this error was not identified and ... [why] staff agreed with the inspection findings."

Heron Marquez Estrada • 612-673-4280