— Sewage Facilities Planning Module Review for Onlot Sewage Systems.
That is a mouthful and it sounds complicated.
To some degree, it's very complicated.
But what it boils down to is not that complicated — economic damage to northeastern Pennsylvania.
At issue is the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) regulations which are now being considered. Those regulations focus on water quality and the impact to that water from septic systems in the state.
It was the subject of a meeting on Friday at Ehrhardt's Waterfront Resort which was attended by around 200 people, including all of the statewide elected officials from this region.
Currently, the new regulations are being considered by DEP. There is a 60-day comment period and that has to be the focus for the public, said Rep. Mike Peifer.
He said it is urgent that members of the public make comments about the regulations in order to get their views expressed to those in charge.
Those comments can be made directly to DEP.The website is http://www.depweb.state.pa.us/portal/server.pt/community/dep_home/5968.
"This issue is critical to this region," said Eric Ehrhardt, who moderated the meeting and is a Palmyra Township supervisor.
He also asked an interesting question: "Why is DEP not here?"
Ehrhardt answered his own question: "That's a good question."
He then reflected back a year when DEP Sec. Michael Krancer was at Ehrhardt's for a meeting and he was asked specifically about regulations which relate to groundwater and construction matters.
Ehrhardt said Krancer "basically ignored us and talked about the governor's budget."
Page 2 of 6 - Ironically, during the meeting, a press release was issued by the governor's office announcing that Krancer is resigning from office on April 15. When it was announced later in the meeting, it was met with a big round of applause.
Will Whitehead, a senior environmental scientist at Kiley Associates, told the audience the issue comes down to "special protection waters."
Those waters are "high quality" and "exceptional value" as defined by DEP.
As Whitehead pointed out, that covers nearly everything in Wayne and Pike counties.
And it could mean a big impact on new developments in this region.
Whitehead said what has brought the issue to this point is a court case involving a subdivision development in Berks County. DEP was sued over the decision it made in issuing permits and lost the case.
That, says Whitehead, is when "buffers" were brought "into the picture."
Under the rules, there has to be a 150-foot buffer zone between the septic system and any stream. That even includes ditches which may only run after a rainstorm.
In some cases, the buffer zone has to be a forrest, which he said could add great expense for property owners.
The focus of the proposed rules is the reduction of nitrates in surface waters. Many who talked on Friday said that is not a problem in this part of the state.
Whitehead said these rules would apply to single-family homes and the remedies to meet the rules would cost up to $10,000 to install various systems. There would also be ongoing maintenance costs.
There are also "best management practices" which have to be followed, which could also be costly to developers and landowners.
Whitehead said it would "limit your development."
Page 3 of 6 - Justin Hoffman from Kiley Associates also addressed the audience.
"Part of the motivation of this policy, in my opinion, is to regulate development," said Hoffman.
He then presented a case study which focused on the Namanie Village, a subdivision on Route 507 next to Lake Wallenpaupack.
Had the new rules been in place, Hoffman said the subdivision would never have taken place because of costs.
The requirements to apply buffers and setbacks, along with other rules, would have meant an additional $3.2 million to the developers. That, he said, means the project would not have been developed.
Hoffman also gave an example of a small development in Palmyra Township in Wayne County. In that case, it is 1.3 acres and would be a commercial development.
Because it is proposing to have two restrooms, that puts the requirements to a new level because of the amount of daily water discharge.
He said under the DEP's requirements, the "project could not be approved."
Hoffman also pointed out the new rules would force people to "look at land anywhere within a thousand feet of your land." That means adjoining land would have to be considered.
"Is this a taking of your property?" he asked.
Also speaking was Tom Reilly, president of Reilly Associates.
Reilly has been involved in commercial and industrial project development for 30 years. He said companies "choose locations" based on the "costs of regulations."
Should these go into effect, he said development would essentially grind to a halt.
Reilly also said there are currently petitions being circulated to "make all of the Upper Delaware" region as "exceptional value" water.
Page 4 of 6 - "I believe the push is coming from people who do not live around here," said Reilly.
Those people, he said, are against hydrofracturing for natural gas.
But, he said, even without fracking, the economic impacts of such regulations would devastate development in this region.
The next speaker was Brian Oram, a professional geologist from B.F. Environmental Consultants.
"The thing that fries my butt," began Oram, is the focus of the regulations are about nitrates. He also said the regulations don't specify any difference between exceptional value and high quality streams, although there is a difference.
"I believe we do need a policy," said Oram, "because the DEP can't fight themselves out of a wet paper bag."
Oram had several charts and graphs which outlined nitrate facts.
He said the largest percentage of nitrates come from agriculture uses and the second highest source is from the atmosphere. That comes in the form of rain which transfers nitrates all around the globe.
Only 4 percent of nitrates come from septic systems, he said.
In talking about the case in Berks County, Oram said the judge was "appalled" by "DEP's lack of science."
He also said that DEP "does not have a good track record" when it comes to lawsuits.
Oram said that nitrate levels in northeast Pennsylvania are very low.
"If nitrates were the problem, the streams would be loaded," said Oram. "Are they? No."
He said acceptable levels of nitrates are 10 milligrams per liter but the DEP "is talking zero."
Oram said any rules from DEP "should be made on science and facts," something he said is lacking with this proposal.
Page 5 of 6 - He also pointed out that townships, counties and boroughs are going to feel a big impact because not only will the regulations have to be followed, there will have to be constant inspections to make sure they are up to code.
"You are going to be hit with a big burden," said Oram.
He feels the proposal is written "for the highest needs" and that simply does not apply to this region.
"We forget about history," said Oram, pointing out that agriculture use was a big factor for causing nitrates but those have been reduced greatly over the past couple of decades.
But Oram's biggest beef is the fact he thinks DEP isn't using science, saying there is "the absence of actual data."
In summation, Oram said the proposal is "creating a future headache."
Also on hand for the meeting was Rep.David Maloney who represents the Berks County region where the lawsuit set these proposals in motion.
Regarding that court decision, he said "it is not science based at all."
Maloney said his wife's family has had an issue with DEP in trying to develop her family's estate. He said they have yet to get the permits to subdivide the land because of regulations.
Sen. Lisa Baker said now is the time for people to take action on this issue.
She called the policy "bad for our communities and our region."
Baker said it is "fixing a problem that does not exist. We need to scrap the policy and we need to start over."
She also said the legislature needs to "look at creating a statute" that deals with how policies are developed and how the public is informed.
Page 6 of 6 - Wayne County Commissioner Brian Smith also spoke to the audience. Smith has been instrumental in getting the experts and elected leaders together in addressing this issue.
"This is a huge problem," said Smith.
Smith blames "extreme environmentalists" for pushing these kinds of policies.
He believes those people, many of whom he said are from the Philadelphia area, "want to use this (region) as a playground. They don't want development. We have to start standing our ground."
He also urged people to "don't agree to things that don't make sense."
At the close of the meeting, Smith issued a challenge to the governor's office, which did have a representative at the meeting.
"I am publicly asking the governor's office for a public hearing by DEP in this region," said Smith.
That hearing, he said, should happen "before this policy is ever implemented."