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Heal the Ocean Turns to Ex-County Official for AB 885 Assistance

Rick Merrifield, county's former Environmental Health Services director, consulting for group on septic system regulations

Heal the Ocean has announced that Rick Merrifield, former director of the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department’s Environmental Health Services, is helping the organization as a consultant in the teamwork crafting of language for AB 885 — septic system regulations for the state of California.

Rick Merrifield
Rick Merrifield

AB 885 had been authored by former Assemblywoman Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, in 1999, and regulations were supposed to have been finalized by 2004. The regulations stalled a number of times during a rough public hearing process that began in 2005, but the process repeatedly fell apart because of disagreements between stakeholders.

In February 2011, Heal the Ocean and Heal the Bay-Santa Monica filed a “friendly lawsuit” on the State Water Resources Control Board to nudge forward the establishing of regulations. The two nonprofit organizations have been in countless Sacramento workshops and teleconference meetings with state board staff and state environmental health directors ever since.

The goal is adoption of AB 885 regulations on June 19.

HTO executive director Hillary Hauser said she called Merrifield in early May to help her organization navigate bureaucratic waters.

“At the last minute, differences emerged between environmentalists, environmental health officers and state board staff,” Hauser said. “I was hugely concerned we’d fail to find a common ground, and that we’d end up with something nobody was happy with. So I called Rick, who has a great understanding of all the angles — governmental as well as water quality.”

Hauser said it was of great benefit that Merrifield had served on the state board’s AB 885 steering committee as far back as 2005.

“Rick provided HTO and Heal the Bay with a more informed voice, spoke the special language of environmental health directors, urged measures in the regulations to protect water quality, and mediated the differences between us all,” she said. “He helped get the stakeholders’ final draft of AB 885 to the state board on May 11, 2012 — one we could all accept.”

The State Water Board will now issue its final draft of AB 885 regulations on May 29. The hearing for the adoption of the regulations is set for June 19 in Sacramento.

Click here for more information on Heal the Ocean, or call 805.965.7570. Click here to make an online donation. Connect with Heal the Ocean on Facebook. Follow Heal the Ocean on Twitter: @HealtheOcean.

— Hillary Hauser is executive director of Heal the Ocean.

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