DEP Agrees to Add 30 Days to Sewer Rule Comments
4/19/13 by Mikki Uzupes
The State Department of Environmental Protection agreed to extend the public comment period to June 3 on its draft guidance document for on-lot sewer systems in Wayne and Pike Counties, and a few other areas of the state. DEP Acting Secretary Chris Abruzzo said, “We want to make sure that everyone has a chance to be heard; we want reasonable development to be able to occur; and we want to make sure this state’s water quality is protected. The agency also announced it will host a webinar this Tuesday from 2 to 3 p.m., to present the document and answer questions. DEP will also expand its outreach and discussion efforts with local government organizations, but stopped short of setting the local public hearing requested by the Wayne County Commissioners.
The draft technical guidance outlines an approach using best management practices, such as the number of septic systems per acre on a proposed development, or nitrate removal technology, to demonstrate that the state’s most pristine waters are protected. Under Pennsylvania law, these high-quality and exceptional value watersheds are afforded special protections, known as anti-degradation requirements.
DEP is required by federal law to ensure the water quality of such watersheds is protected and maintained.
The technical guidance, as drafted, is prospective and would only apply to on-lot septic systems for projects that have not yet secured sewage planning approval from DEP and local government organizations. The technical guidance will not affect projects that have already been approved.
This technical guidance is needed because the Pennsylvania Environmental Hearing Board ruled that the modeling DEP relied on to approve the use of septic systems near high-quality and exceptional value watersheds did not adequately demonstrate the waterways are protected. The ruling set a high legal and scientific standard for review of sewage facilities planning in special protection watersheds.
It lays out one approach to address developers’ uncertainty. If it is finalized, DEP will favorably view planning modules submitted in accordance with the guidance and will also consider alternative approaches as sewage planners seek approval from the agency.
Written comments on the guidance should be sent in writing by June 3 to Thomas Starosta at DEP’s Bureau of Point and Non-Point Source Management, Division of Planning and Permits, P. O. Box 8774, Harrisburg, PA 17105-8774, or via email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information or to register for the webinar, visit www.dep.state.pa.us and click the “DEP Webinars” button, then “Draft Technical Guidance for On-lot Sewage Systems in HQ/EV” on the right-hand side of that page. The webinar will be recorded and posted on this webpage for future viewing.
Local Legislators, Other Call for Sewer Policy Hearing
4/11/13 by Mikki Uzupes
Area legislators and others from across the state have asked Gov. Tom Corbett and Acting Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Christopher Abruzzo to delay implementation of new regulations aimed at reducing nitrate levels for on-lot sewage systems until public hearings can be held to receive community input on the matter. Sen. Lisa Baker’s Chief of Staff Jennifer Wilson says residents in the region have worked hard to preserve the clean water, as the environmental value of protected waterways is paramount to an economy based on recreational tourism. Community leaders fear that the cost of meeting these proposed new restrictions will be highly prohibitive, crippling the development of new housing communities, prohibiting existing businesses from expanding and making new commercial construction nearly impossible.
This call for public hearings came after local elected officials, small business owners, farmers, tourism groups, real estate professionals, and landowners from across Monroe, Pike and Wayne counties expressed their concerns about the proposed policy. The change would apply to new or replacement residential or commercial on-lot system installations located in High Quality or Exceptional Value watersheds.
Sewage enforcement officers and county planners have asserted that the proposed DEP policy offers an unreasonable approach to water quality protection and fails to utilize science-based techniques. Their analysis includes several studies conducted in northeastern Pennsylvania that show that water quality has improved over the past several decades.
They also point to a lack of increased nitrates surface and groundwater, despite an increase in residential and commercial development within special protected watersheds.
Wayne Builders Launch Website on DEP Policy Threat
4/19/13 by Mikki Uzupes
The Wayne County Builders Association has launched a new web page, dedicated to providing information on the draft guidance document proposed by the PA Department of Environmental Protection for on-lot sewage systems in high quality and exceptional value watersheds. Virtually all of Wayne, Pike, Monroe, and much of Carbon counties will be impacted by these proposed DEP policy changes. Builders Association officials say approval of this policy will lead to significant restrictions on the use of individuals' private property, and it will create unnecessary and excessive costs, such as for the use of nitrate removal technology. Many pre-existing properties will be rendered non-buildable as a result. Here’s a link to the new website.
DEP Sewer Regs Solve Problem That Doesn’t Exist
3/29/13 by Mikki Uzupes
Under proposed changes to on-lot sewage disposal guidelines, the state Department of Environmental Protection takes clear aim at nitrates migrating from septic systems to High Quality and Exceptional Value streams and lakes.
However the department has historically not shown much concern about it in terms of water quality, setting limits instead on phosphorus to control blue-green algae growth. There’s no sign of widespread system malfunctions despite their prevalence in the region, since Soil Scientist Brian Oram says background levels of nitrogen are only barely measurable.
So that begs the question: “Why are our streams clean?” he asks. “We train SEOs (Sewage Enforcement Officers), we’ve got site testing, we do design criteria and the designs are conservative. We design at peak daily flow, and systems operate at average daily flow, we do some site inspections before and provide back up areas.”
Business, community and local government leaders say this is a policy designed to solve a problem that doesn’t exist. It was designed in response to a challenge before the PA Environmental Hearing Board, but Oram says it falls woefully short.
“The judge that reviewed this case was appalled at the approval by DEP because of the lack of science. So what do we do? We respond with a document that’s not based on any science. That doesn’t make any sense,” he explained.
State Legislators and others hope to delay implementation of the new guidelines, and are asking the Department of Environmental Protection to hold a public hearing in Wayne or Pike County, and urge residents to do the same.
Example Shows Impact of Sewer Rules on Businesses
3/28/13 by Mikki Uzupes
So far this week, we’ve heard that local leaders see a big problem with the potential impact of new guidelines for on-lot septic disposal in Special Protection Watersheds, and that there’s seems to be a lack of science supporting the need to limit nitrates in lakes in streams.
Local county and municipal officials are worried that setbacks of 150 feet could lower property values, which would mean less revenue for local government.
But the impacts could ripple through the economy says long-time Engineer Tom Reilly, who has already seen the effects of the Erosion Control buffers on development projects.
“They find a very heavy burden in their engineering costs and more substantially in their construction costs for these regulations,” he said. “We have seen projects that have substantial jobs go to others states and other parts of Pennsylvania because of these regulations.”
Kiley Associates Engineer Justin Hoffman gave an example. “This is a 1.3-acre existing commercial property, and it’s located near Route 6 and 590 intersection in Palmyra Township, Wayne County. Proposed sewer flow on a typical commercial project like this is 800 gallons per day. There are no onsite streams and waterways, and therefore no requirement for buffers. Even using all of the available nitrate protection factors, the project cannot achieve compliance with the proposed policy.”
That’s why economic development officials fear this new guidance document could stymie business development in the region – pushing it into areas of the state without Special Protection Watersheds. In Pennsylvania, controlling and guiding development falls to the township and borough governments, which adopt subdivision and land development, and zoning ordinances.
But Justin Hoffman of Kiley Associates believes the new guidelines for on-lot septic systems in Special Protection Watersheds tries to take that authority out of the hands of local officials. “It would appear that part of the motivation for this policy, and this is my opinion, is to regulate development, to regulate land use,” he stated. “Townships and municipalities have the ability to regulate that through density, through setbacks from streams, etc. Now the state’s coming in to say, ‘We want you to do this in this way, because it’s going to essentially protect water quality.’”
County and local officials are also concerned about the impact of the new regulations, and how their 150-foot setbacks may result in lower assessed property values. Palmyra-Pike Supervisor Eric Ehrhardt explains. “If all of a sudden you can not use your property as you thought when you purchased it, the value, obviously, will drop significantly. All the schools, counties and municipalities depend on real estate taxes. If everyone starts to ask for re-assessments, those values go down.”
Wayne County Commissioner Brian Smith agrees.
“The important thing for everybody to know is that as their assessment goes down, the need for the revenue is still there. It’s just a shift of taxation toward the rest of the population.”
Smith, Ehrhardt and other local officials are encouraging taxpayers to comment on the proposed guidelines, urging the policy be based on good science.
New Sewer Rules Usurp Local Land Use Control
3/27/13 by Mikki Uzupes
In Pennsylvania, controlling and guiding development falls to the township and borough governments, which adopt subdivision and land development, and zoning ordinances.
But Justin Hoffman of Kiley Associates believes the new guidelines for on-lot septic systems in Special Protection Watersheds tries to take that authority out of the hands of local officials. “It would appear that part of the motivation for this policy, and this is my opinion, is to regulate development, to regulate land use,” he said. “Townships and municipalities have the ability to regulate that through density, through setbacks from streams, etc. Now the state’s coming in to say, ‘We want you to do this in this way, because it’s going to essentially protect water quality.’”
County and local officials are also concerned about the impact of the new regulations, and their 150-foot setbacks will result in lower assessed property values.
Palmyra-Pike Supervisor Eric Ehrhardt explains. “If all of a sudden you can not use your property as you thought when you purchased it. The value, obviously, will drop significantly. All the schools, counties and municipalities depend on real estate taxes. If everyone starts to ask for re-assessments, those values go down.”
Wayne County Commissioner Brian Smith agrees. “The important thing for everybody to know is that as their assessment goes down, the need for the revenue is still there. It’s just a shift of taxation toward the rest of the population.
Smith, Ehrhardt and other local officials are encouraging taxpayers to comment on the proposed guidelines, urging the policy be based on good science.
We’ve got a link to the guidance document, and a list of state lawmakers and their contact information at WaynePikeNews.com.
Sewer Rules Limit Land, Economic Development
3/26/13 by Mikki Uzupes
In its new guidance document for on-lot septic systems, the PA Department of Environmental Protection wants to reduce nitrates in the sewer system plume to background levels to protect High Quality and Exceptional Value Streams.
It promotes this idea through a series of best management practices that have been assigned protection values. Used in combination, the DEP believes these techniques will prevent the degradation of water quality.
But the practices have a significant consequence for property owners, says Justin Hoffman of Kiley Associates. “They’re all BMPs that limit development – on-lot system density, setback distances, riparian buffers. Those all limit development and getting the most out of your property,” he explained. There are two other technology-based BMPs but they cost a lot of money. If you do the math, I could spend $20,000 on top of my system and not meet this policy. I’ve got to do something to limit development to make this policy work.
The requirements, if adopted after the 60-day public comment period ends in May, would apply to all new subdivisions, regardless of size, and development of existing lots with more than 800 gallons of sewage flow per day – any business with two restrooms, for example.
Soil Expert Says New Sewer Regs Not Based on Science
3/25/13 by Mikki Uzupes
The proposed guidelines for on-lot septic systems in High Quality and Exceptional Value streams – called Special Protection Waters – simply hasn’t been based on sound science, local Soil Scientist and Hydro-geologist Brian Oram told a group of lawmakers, local leaders and concerned business people at special meeting last week.
Oram says the Department of Environmental Protection wants non-point source pollution from on-lot septic systems to meet nitrate criteria much more stringent than for point sources like sewage treatment plants. “The new policy says, ‘For point sources we’re going to keep it at 8 mg/liter if we apply it at all, but for non-point sources that don’t directly discharge to a stream, it has to be zero.’ That doesn’t make sense,” he explained. “If I’m putting something in a stream directly that should be the thing that’s most limiting, not an on-lot disposal system that has an opportunity to be diluted and transformed before it gets to the stream, and it might take 40 years for it to get there.”
He also said the guidance document, now under a 60-day public comment period, fails to take into account specific conditions of each site like groundwater recharge rates, soils, topography and other issues currently used to properly site an on-lot system in Pennsylvania.
Wayne, Pike Push Back Against Sewer Guidelines
3/22/13 by Mikki Uzupes
The time has come to push back.
That was the general consensus of an unprecedented assembly of state lawmakers, state and local government officials, contractors, developers and the tourism and economic development sectors at Ehrhardt’s Waterfront Friday.
They gathered to learn more about the impacts of new proposed guidelines for on-lot septic systems from a panel of local engineers and a soil scientist, who say the document has no basis in science or reality.
Wayne County Commissioner Brian Smith has been leading the fight against the proposal. “They’re coming up with a one-size-fits-all solution for everybody in the special protection watershed”, he said. “It’s just incredibly wrong and it can’t happen to us. It’s going to be devastating.”
He’s talking about streams and watersheds that are designated as High Quality or Exception Value, which constitutes all of Pike and more than 90 percent of Wayne Counties.
The buffer zones, experimental technology and other required installation practices, will mean more money to build a home, less land and, therefore, less money for developers, and the effects are even more far reaching says Wallenpaupack School Board member Coulby Dunn.
“If you consider Western Wayne, if you consider Pocono Mountain, if you consider Honesdale, we’re talking tens of millions of dollars the schools would be losing from a two percent reduction in assessed value. That’s pretty incredible,” he said.
They’re dire warnings and concerns have not been lost on Sen. Lisa Baker and other state legislators. “This policy is bad for our region, bad for our communities, and it is absolutely a call to action for all of us,” the senator said. “There’s no question this punishes our community, our businesses. It adds a cost burden that is unreasonable and not necessary. We need to scrap the policy, and we need to start over.”
The Sewage Planning Module Review Policy for On-Lot Septic Systems in High Quality and Exceptional Value Watersheds is under a 60-day public review period that ends in early May.
Here’s a list of state lawmakers and their contact information:
PA DEP Pocono District Office
HC 1 Box 95-B
Swiftwater, PA 18370
Sen. Lisa Baker
2512 Route 6
Hawley, PA 18428
Rep. Michael Peifer
32 Commercial Street, Suit 300
Honesdale, PA 18431
Rep. Sandra Major
16501 State Route 706, Suite 2
Montrose, PA 18801
Rep. Rosemary Brown
PO Box 869
Marshalls Creek, PA 18335
Rep. Frank Farina
423 Main St.
Eynon, PA 18403
Gov. Northeast Office
Oppenheim Bldg. 3rd Floor
409 Lackawanna Ave.
Scranton, PA 18503