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Septic tank regulation is all but ignored

| Thursday, Nov. 8, 2012, 9:31 a.m.

Ten years after Murrysville officials made regular clearing of septic tanks mandatory, officials aren't enforcing the regulations and are hesitant to require haulers to exclusively take the waste to Franklin Township Municipal Sanitary Authority.

At the urging of the state Department of Environmental Protection in 2002, the municipality adopted regulations to require septic tank owners to have the tanks inspected and cleared every three to five years. But no one is checking that, officials said.

“Ten years later, we're still not enforcing this, and DEP hasn't come in about it,” Mayor Bob Brooks said.

“Is it really that important?”

About 1,500 Murrysville homeowners have septic tanks, which collect sewage and waste for properties that don't have access to sewer lines. Jim Brucker, director of the sanitary authority, said the facility expanded to accommodate the additional waste that would be coming from the septic tanks with the understanding that all Murrysville waste would come to the Murrysville facility.

“(The DEP) practically ordered Murrysville to come up with this plan, and council asked me to treat the sludge,” Brucker said.

“I had to force my board to accept this sludge. Somebody has to responsible for this sludge.”

Brucker said the expansion cost about $600,000, and having the waste from all 1,500 tanks processed at his facility would help offset the cost. In the past, Brucker proposed the authority receive 22 cents per gallon of waste it received. If council agrees to make the authority the only acceptable recipient of the waste – haulers can take it to any DEP-approved facility under the ordinance – the authority would charge 10 cents per gallon to accept and treat the waste.

Several residents balked at the idea that a septic tanks must be emptied every three to five years. Bob Whiteside, who repaired and installed septic systems for 20 years, said he hasn't pumped his tank in 18 years, and it's fine.

“I've dug the crap,” Whiteside said. “This three to five year stuff is crazy.”

Council President Joan Kearns said DEP “came in with a heavy hand” when it required the municipality to put regulations in place in the 1990s.

The state requires any municipality where homes have on-lot sewage disposal systems – such as septic tanks – to provide a procedure for maintenance of those systems, DEP spokesman John Poister said. Based on that requirement, Murrysville officials decided to develop a management plan to make sure that septic tanks didn't back up or break because of a build-up of waste. State officials worked with municipal officials to develop the plan, Poister said, but problems arose at the end.

Municipal officials told the state they didn't support cleaning the tanks every three years, he said.

“They did not like that, indicating that they knew single or elderly households would not generate a great deal of solids,” Poister said.

The final determination was that inspections would occur three years after the pump out and change the cleaning schedule based on the amount of waste accumulated. The municipality would be divided in thirds, he said, so that every tank wouldn't be cleaned and pumped during the same year.

Murrysville is the only community in the state that requires municipalwide pumping and inspections, Poister said.

Officials agreed to revisit the plan once it received more feedback from residents to consider requiring all waste be taken to the sanitary authority on a regular basis.

“Unfortunately, it's the intrusion of government,” Brooks said. “We don't want to take (anyone) out of business here.”

Daveen Rae Kurutz is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8627, or dkurutz@tribweb.com.

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