— Every elected representative from this area is asking the governor to delay any formal adoption of rules relating to septic systems in the state.
The issue involves proposed rules changes by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) which local officials say could stymie new development in Wayne County.
The issue has been front and center in recent months and a large gathering was held recently in Hawley with officials discussing the matter. All representatives in Harrisburg from this area were in attendance.
On Thursday, a formal letter was sent to Gov. Tom Corbett asking him to delay any formal adoption of the so-called "guidance document" proposed by DEP.
That letter was signed by Sen. Lisa Baker, Rep. Rosemary Brown, Rep. Sandra Major, Rep. Mike Peifer and Rep. Mario Scavello.
Also on Thursday, the DEP announced it is extending the comment period until June 3. Originally, the comment period was scheduled to close on May 1.
"I think we are making an impact," said Brian Smith, chairman of the Wayne County Commission and someone who has been spearheading the drive against the proposed rules.
The rules call for stringent restrictions on development where septic systems are involved.
It is especially crucial in Wayne County and all of northeastern Pennsylvania because of the water quality issues associated with the regulations.
The rules target "high-quality and exceptional value" watersheds. That is about 90 percent of Wayne County and all of Pike County.
Local officials say that will almost shut down any new development, something they say will hinder the local economy.
"This literally shuts down economic development," said Smith.
The rules call for various "points" which have to be earned in order for septic systems to be placed on properties. Experts say obtaining those points will be very difficult and it could mean a minimum lot size of more than 11 acres.
Page 2 of 3 - Smith said that could nearly eliminate commercial development and put a big strain on residential development. He fears the construction industry would be crippled.
That is apparently the feeling the lawmakers, as well, who outlined those points in their letter to the governor.
"Area 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," they wrote in the letter.
The letter says residents of this region "have worked very hard to preserve their protected water designations, as the environmental value of protected waterways is paramount to an economy based on recreational tourism. In an area facing high unemployment and difficulty in attracting new businesses, the cost of meeting these proposed restrictions will be highly prohibitive, crippled the development of new housing communities, prohibiting existing businesses from expanding and making new commercial construction nearly impossible."
"I think we are making an impact," said Smith in an interview on Friday morning. "They are getting the message."
Smith said he has been in frequent contact with the governor's office and they are trying to arrange some sort of public meeting in this area about the proposed regulations.
"I don't want people to back off of this," said Smith, who encouraged people to continue to comment and write letters making sure they copy the governor's office.
Another factor to be considered is the fact the head of the DEP recently stepped down.
Michael Krancer announced his resignation, ironically, during the large meeting held last month about the regulations. When it was announced, a large round of applause came from those in attendance.
Krancer was a controversial figure as head of the DEP. He made comments more than a year ago at the same location in Hawley in which he criticized the Delaware River Basin Commission on the issue of hydrofracking.
Those comments, reported in this newspaper, became fodder for talk radio throughout much of the east coast.
Page 3 of 3 - Chris Abruzzo is now the acting director of the DEP while the governor searches for a replacement.
Smith pointed out that in the press release from the DEP on Thursday, Abruzzo says the agency wants reasonable development in the state.
"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," said Abruzzo in the release. "If there are different approaches than the one we have proposed, we want to hear them."
Overall, Smith said he is "pleased" the issue remains on the front burner and he said local officials have been working closely with the statewide elected officials to draft a combined letter.
"We strongly urge you to delay any formal adoption of this guidance document following the expiration of the formal comment period ...," says the letter from the elected leaders. "We ask that you conduct local and statewide public hearings to receive community input on its affect on future economic development across the state."
Written comments on the proposal 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 or they can be submitted via email at email@example.com.