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.