Amish community wins court case against Fillmore County on septic tank issue

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(ABC 6 News) – After nearly a decade of court battles, the Minnesota Court of Appeals has ruled in favor of the Amish community in Fillmore County when it comes to the disposal of what is called “gray water”.

The leftover water from washing dishes or bathing is called gray water and it has to go somewhere.

Fillmore County officials have been requiring people in the community to install septic tanks on their property to dispose of gray water, but a local Amish family, the Swartzentruber’s, filed against the regulation.

On Monday, the Swartzentruber’s won the case.

It stems back to 2014, when the Swartzentruber’s had a building permit denied by the county when they refused to install a septic tank. That is when this specific court battle began, however Fillmore County Attorney Brett Corson says there have been arguments over this issue going back decades.

The Swartzentruber’s and other Amish families in the county say installing this type of system goes against their beliefs.

Just off of the gravel road in Fillmore County near Lanesboro is the home and farm of Sam Swartzentruber.

His family lives modestly with no technology or electricity.

The Swartzentruber’s are so separated from the modern world, that they had not heard that they had won their court case on Monday until ABC 6 News told them.

“It’s good,” said Sam Swartzentruber. “A lot of people didn’t want to put it in because it was a church thing, the church wouldn’t allow it.”

Others in the community say they are happy the court supported the Amish.

“It’s a good thing that the courts stayed with the Amish and approved of them not using the septic system,” said Richard Bishop, the President of Amish Tours in Harmony.

However, Corson says if families are refusing to install the septic tank, it poses a risk to public safety when it comes to drinking water.

“Gray water contains all those things, like blood and urine and feces, that would normally be in sewage,” said Corson. “The Amish community is a diverse group of people that live here. They’re our neighbors, they’re our friends. We’ll just look at the decision and see how we can proceed.”

Corson says if not disposed of properly, the landscape in Fillmore County has hills and cracks, and the gray water can leak into people’s ground wells.

According to Sam Swartzentruber, his family keeps what’s called a holding tank on his property and this holds its gray water. Swartzentruber says he has someone come and pump it out and take it off of the farm, claiming he has never dumped it onto the ground.

In the end, the state’s Court of Appeals supported the Swartzentruber family.