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Sewage legislation passed in Harrisburg; Current standard to remain in place

By David Hulse and Fritz Mayer
July 2, 2013

HARRISBURG, PA — Legislation passed in the Pennsylvania General Assembly last week prevents new policy from being implemented that could have greatly increased the cost of installing new septic systems in areas with high quality (HQ) and exceptional value (EV) watersheds in Pennsylvania. The legislation was supported by Senator Lisa Baker, and representatives Sandra Major, Rosemary Brown and Mike Peifer.

The bill allows the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to approve septic systems using the current standards.

“We are pleased to have this legislation garner such strong support in both the House and Senate and look forward to House Bill 1325 being signed into law by the governor in the coming days,” announced the lawmakers. “We also appreciate the work of our local elected officials, conservation districts, planning boards and sewage enforcement officers, who take great strides to maintain and protect our waterways. Their hard work and successful track record is what helped this legislation ultimately pass.”

The new policy that was to be adopted by the DEP was bitterly opposed by local officials.

At the Pike County Commissioners’ meeting on June 18, Commissioner Matt Osterberg said it was important that the bill pass. He said, “I don’t have to tell you how important this is to Pike County residents with the economy the way it is.”

As he has said in past, Chairman Rich Caridi insisted, “There is no nitrate problem in Pike County. Apparently the legislature agrees with us.”

The DEP proposed the new rules after losing a court challenge to its approval of a Lycoming County sewage plan. Since that decision (Pine Creek Valley Watershed Assoc. v. DEP), the DEP proposed new guidance for on-lot systems within HQ and EV watersheds. Uncommon in most of the state, these streams drain much of Wayne and most of Pike counties.

That guidance reportedly would have prohibited septic systems closer than 150 feet from a body of water or 30 feet from a stream, and require underground septic systems to be surrounded by a barrier to prevent the effluent from traveling underground.

Sponsors of the house legislation said it had become clear through public input that the proposed DEP guidance would be impractical, leaving the DEP with no approach upon which to rely when approving development projects using on-lot systems in HQ and EV watersheds.

Caridi said that Baker had met with environmental groups supporting the new rules. “Once our concerns were explained to them, they took a neutral position and did not lobby against the legislation.”