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Pa. townships soon to require septic pumping

October 29, 2006|by KATE S. ALEXANDER

CHAMBERSBURG, PA. - Every township in Franklin County soon will require residents to pump their septic tanks on a three-year schedule, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).

"Every municipality will have the requirement at some point," said Sandy Roderick, spokeswoman for the state DEP.

The requirement is part of a state initiative designed to improve local sewage management and protect groundwater.

In 1997, the state amended Act 537 to require regular maintenance of septic systems, Roderick said.

The legislation mandates that municipalities require all on-lot septic systems to be pumped every three years.

Roderick said that while the measure has been in place for nine years, many municipalities are just now beginning to enforce the it.

"Act 537 is the municipality's responsibility, but some have yet to show progress," Roderick said.

Today, almost every municipality in Franklin County has adopted the updated Act 537, and drafted ordinances that specify deadlines for pumping and penalties for those who fail to comply.

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Despite potentially facing fines, and in a few areas, imprisonment, some residents in Franklin County have resisted the measure and have not pumped their systems.

"We have about 600 who have yet to comply this year," Antrim Township Manager Ben Thomas said.

Roderick said those who fail to pump their systems can face legal action from their township.

Antrim Township is not the only municipality to face resistance.

Maria Misner, assistant zoning officer of Southampton Township, said about one-third of the residents from her township comply. Anna Swailes, Metal Township secretary and supervisor, said the township last year took legal action against 22 people who failed to pump their systems.

Thomas said the measure is not about giving residents an extra bill to pay.

"Do we want people just to have a $150 bill every three years? Absolutely not," he said.

"I am not trying to be the bad guy, but I have to do my job," Swailes said.

Local officials say the measure was designed to encourage proper maintenance of septic systems and protect groundwater, not unfairly burden residents.

"We have areas in Pennsylvania that are rural, and only have on-lot systems," Roderick said. "Some are old, malfunctioning and contaminating drinking water."

Local septic tank specialists S R Daley Sons of Greencastle, Pa., say that once a system malfunctions, the only remedy is expensive alternative systems.

"When a system goes bad, it is because it is not maintained," said April Daley of S R Daley Sons. "It costs $139 to pump a tank; a replacement can cost up to $20,000."

While most townships reserve the right to take legal action against residents who fail to pump their systems, most say it is a last resort.

"I think we (Washington Township) would pump the tank before we brought legal action," Washington Township Manager Michael Christopher said.

"Greene Township gives second and third notices," said Vince Elbel, sewage enforcement officer. "Most people comply by the third notice."

Elbel said he believes that while a few residents still refuse to pump their systems, they will comply in time.

"We (Greene Township) had problems initially, but with each round, more and more people pump," he said.

Christopher said Washington Township, which has enforced the measure since 1997, has almost 100 percent compliance.

Elbel, who is the sewage enforcement officer for 14 townships, said most townships will issue notices to residents when it is time to pump. Those who are unsure if they are required to pump their system can check with their township, he said.

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