Streets are in, houses waiting at Elk Heights

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By Shawn Skager

The Courier-Herald

The streets are all laid out.

Behind the chain link gate that screens off Davis Street, the wide main entry boulevard that leads off of Ryan Road into the Elk Heights housing development, even the sidewalks are laid out.

They won't know the tread of inhabitants, however, until developer Sterling Master Homes gets the approval of the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department (TPCHD) for its proposed septic systems.

Home construction was expected to begin last winter.

Because of the scarcity of sewer hookups in Buckley, the plan for the development was for 76 houses on half-acre lots with septic systems. Prices of the new homes are expected to begin in the low $500,000 range.

For construction, or even platting to begin, Health Department approval was needed for the septic system designs.

According to Dennis Tone, environmental health liaison with the Health Department, placement of the houses requires the developer to do two things.

“It's two-pronged,” he said. “The first requirement for platting is to have some sort of feasibility guaranteed to have appropriate soils.”

Tone said before Sterling Master Homes can plat, the company has to prove there are drain fields capable of handling the septic systems.

The drain field allows effluent, or partially treated wastewater, to trickle through soil that acts as a filter. Aerobic bacteria and minerals in the soil break down the remaining organic material and kill germs. Chemicals such as phosphate are also contained by the soil.

Improper drain fields can result in contamination of ground water and other surface water.

Depth and type of soil is important in the drain field, with loamy or sandy soil 2 to 3 feet deep the standard.

“In some areas they introduced dirt to the drain fields,” Tone said. “In the process of developing some of the areas they also leveled out the soil.”

According to Tone, the introduction of dirt and leveling made the drain fields unacceptable for use.

Tone added that the second step in the permitting process is to draw up specific septic plans for individual lots before they can be developed.

“What we're looking at is that they have the appropriate septic drain fields and reserve,” he said.

Now the ball is in the developer's court, Tone said.

Developer Doug Walker, of Sterling Master Inc. did not return phone calls for comment by press time.

A spokesman for Sterling Master Inc., however, said construction on homes in the development is expected to start in the next 60 days and that most of the holdups have been addressed and resolved.

Shawn Skager can be reached at

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