LT Supers to Fine Violators of Sewer Ordinance

CLEARFIELD– The Lawrence Township Supervisors intend to enforce stringent penalties against property owners who fail to comply with its sewer ordinance and contribute to its excessive storm water inflow and infiltration into the sewer system.

Last month, the supervisors authorized that a new ordinance be drafted with the aim of reducing storm water inflow and infiltration into their sanitary sewer lines by putting the hammer down on property owners who have downspouts, sump pumps and French drains joined with the sewer system.

At Tuesday night’s meeting, Solicitor James Naddeo said the township only needed to amend the current ordinance. He wasn’t certain how the township would viably enforce such an ordinance though. He recommended amending the ordinance to provide for a more stringent method of enforcing it by imposing a penalty fine for anyone who fails to comply.

Naddeo recommended that the penalty be severe; at the same time, he said the property owners should be granted 60 days before it attaches. They would then be penalized if the problem isn’t corrected within that timeframe.

Further, he recommended if the property owner doesn’t correct the problem that the enforcement statute permits the township to abate the problem and charge the property owner the expense of abatement.

“We need to put more teeth into how we’re going to enforce it,” said Naddeo. The supervisors then authorized Naddeo to prepare an amendment, including the enforcement penalty, to the ordinance.

Supervisor Chairman Glenn Johnston said the penalty would have to be so severe that it wouldn’t be “laughed off” by the property owners. At that point, Supervisor Ed Brown suggested the penalty fine start at $1,000 and to allow violators 60 days to correct the problem.

If not corrected at the conclusion of the next 60-day period, he suggested fining the violator another $2,000. If the problem still exists after another 60-day period, he suggested that the township enter the property and correct the problem at the cost of the property owner.

The supervisors unanimously approved Brown’s recommendation by a 3-0 vote.

“They’re better off to fix it themselves,” saidJohnston. Brown pointed out if the property owner fails to correct the issue after two occurrences, they’re up to $3,000 in fines before the township even corrects it on the property owner’s bill.

Brown asked about how the township should handle violations during the winter months. He said at times, weather conditions wouldn’t permit for such problems to be corrected.

Naddeo said the township likely wouldn’t be out looking for these issues in such weather. Brown said perhaps the township could hold off and not serve penalties under such weather conditions.

“We want to be courteous to the public,” saidJohnston. “The public is going to really be put out by this, but this really is a serious matter.”

In fact,Johnstonexplained the township could face millions in fines, as well as a consent order that wouldn’t allow the township any leeway on addressing the storm water problem. Additionally, it could be dealt a moratorium on all building permits within the township until the problem is addressed.

In July,Johnstonsaid there are obvious areas in the township that are major indicators of the differences between dry and wet weather. He said this showed the township’s lines were still experiencing excessive storm water in its system.

According to a prior report, excessive storm water is entering sewer lines either through seepage or from residents tied onto the lines with sump pumps, downspouts or French drains.

The storm water then travels to the Clearfield Municipal Authority’s treatment plant and is overwhelming the sewer system and causing raw sewage to flow into the West Branch of the Susquehanna River. This then raises the ire of the state Department of Environmental Protection.

In the previous report,Johnstonsaid the additional storm water coming from downspouts and sump pumps can triple or even quadruple the flow to the treatment plant. He said the township must pay for the additional water treatment.

He added that if the DEP levies a fine, the township must pay for that as well. He said investigating where the water is originating from will also be costly and time consuming.

“We must take care of the problem,” saidJohnston. “It’s not fair to other taxpayers.”

In the previous report,Johnstonsuggested the township’s solicitor draft a new ordinance giving the township the ability to fine those residents who have added to the infiltration problem.

“I’d like to see this handled,” said Brown.

He suggested the fines be such that they encourage the homeowner or property owner to fix the infiltration problem. He said, “It has to be a substantial fine.”

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