A Chanhassen couple, faced with going to jail after a six-year battle with Carver County over their septic system, decided Monday to throw in the towel.
The decision by Janet and Lowell Carlson to fix the septic system will keep them from going to jail Oct. 16 for contempt of court. Carver County District Judge Richard Perkins last week gave them one final chance to make the repairs, estimated to cost at least $10,000.
After the Carlsons bought their farm in 2003, the county ordered them to upgrade the system, saying that it did not have the required 36 inches of separation between its drain field and groundwater on the property. The couple objected, contending there was no indication that the system was leaking or polluting the groundwater.
The dispute landed in court, where a judge sided with the county and ordered the Carlsons to make the repairs.
The county on Monday applauded the couple's decision to abandon their legal fight. "I think that's a wise choice on their behalf," County Manager Dave Hemze said.
Lowell Carlson, 75, is fighting severe health problems, and his 69-year-old wife said that she would probably be going to jail alone, because their doctor feared for her husband's life if he were to be locked up for any length of time. It was ultimately his health concerns, she said, that led to their decision to fix the system within the next two weeks.
"Although we didn't want to cave in to the county's pressure, due to Lowell's health issues [and] the need for me to care for him, being in jail was not in our personal best interest," Janet Carlson said in a statement.
The couple will repair the system with $10,000 that they placed in escrow when they bought the property.
The Carlsons represented themselves in their court battle. Their stance hardened this year when they discovered that the county had spent $2.5 million to buy a ballroom near Lake Waconia that has the same type of septic system -- except that the county says the ballroom's system does comply with the separation requirements. County Commissioner Tom Workman, who had been supporting the couple's efforts, wants the county to fix the ballroom system, which he and other critics claim also is illegal.
Workman, who met with the couple Sunday to talk over their dilemma, said he understood why the Carlsons would not want to push their fight any further.
"I don't want to see them in jail," Workman said. "They're running up against a pretty big boot of the law. I don't see how they win here."
He said the couple's decision will not deter him from pushing the county to address the ballroom issue.
"Absolutely not," Workman said. "I've been trying to get the county board to get someone in here to inspect this."
Workman said he will be presenting documents today to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) regarding the ballroom's septic system. The MPCA last week, at Workman's urging, decided to conduct an initial investigation. A decision about whether the agency will look further into the matter is expected this week, Workman said.
The Carlsons, even in defeat, said they would continue to pressure the county as well about the ballroom's system.
"Now that we are fixing ours," Janet Carlson said, "when is the county going to fix the system at the Waconia Event Center?"
Heron Marquez Estrada • 612-673-4280