Charges filed against Lineboro property owner over septic system

June 08, 1994|By Jackie Powder | Jackie Powder,Sun Staff Writer

The Carroll Health Department has filed charges against a Pennsylvania man, claiming that the septic system in his Lineboro rental home is discharging raw sewage into a nearby stream.

But Paul Baughman said he has been singled out by the Health Department while it permits other Lineboro residents to operate substandard septic systems.

"Pretty much everybody knows Lineboro has got septic system problems anyway," said Mr. Baughman of Glen Rock, a mile from Lineboro. "If I've got to fix mine, then everybody else should have to fix theirs."

Many homes on Main Street in Lineboro have septic systems releasing raw sewage into a stream, he said.

The Health Department investigated the rental property Mr. Baughman owns at 5237 S. Mill St. in January, after receiving a complaint from the tenant that sewage was backing up into the basement shower.

According to Health Department records, sanitarians excavated portions of the septic system and observed the discharge of untreated sewage effluent into a storm water drainage ditch leading to a stream.

The Health Department directed Mr. Baughman to correct the problem within 30 days. He appealed the order.

County health officer Dr. Janet W. Neslen rejected his appeal, saying the sewage discharge created a public health hazard.

In response to Mr. Baughman's argument that other Lineboro residents have illegal septic systems, Dr. Neslen wrote "that is not a valid reason for continuing the practice."

The county Health Department took the unusual step of filing charges in district court against Mr. Baughman after he failed to respond to orders to fix his septic system. His court date has been set for Aug. 3.

Once charges are filed, the violator generally moves quickly to correct the problem, said Charles Zeleski, assistant director of the county's Bureau of Environmental Health.

Mr. Baughman said he plans to fight the charges in court. After the complaint was filed, Mr. Baughman said he repaired a pipe to prevent sewage from backing up in the shower. He said a new tenant moved in two months ago and hasn't complained about sewage back-up.

Richard Issacs, director of the county's Environmental Health Bureau, acknowledged that the Health Department identified some Lineboro homeowners with substandard septic systems in sanitary survey two years ago.

Financed with a grant from the state Department of the Environment, the survey was intended to evaluate the feasibility of extending public water and sewer service to 23 communities in the county, said Ed Singer, supervisor of the county Health Department's water quality program.

As part of the survey, health officials went door-to-door to Lineboro's 35 homes, interviewing residents about their septic systems.

Mr. Isaacs said the Health Department told the homeowners that no enforcement actions would be brought against them if violations were turned up by the survey.

"If you're going to go interview people about sewage runoff, you think you're going to get the truth if there's a possibility they'll go to court?" Mr. Isaacs asked.

However, if the Health Department receives a complaint about a public health hazard, it has a responsibility to investigate and the right to pursue enforcement, Mr. Singer said.

During the sanitary survey, health officials identified four Lineboro homes with septic systems discharging raw sewage into a stream, Mr. Singer said. And 15 homes, he said, have wells that provide no protection against contamination which might wash in from the surface.

Mr. Singer said that as far as he knows, those situations still dTC exist. But he said the Health Department's "hands are tied" because of its promise not to pursue enforcement.

State budget cuts have eliminated funds for sanitary surveys and for installing public water and sewer systems in small communities such as Lineboro, Mr. Singer said.

"Without state and federal grants, it's economically infeasible for small communities to install their own public water and sewer system," he said.

Mr. Zeleski said he couldn't characterize the extent of the public health problem in Lineboro because the data from the survey haven't been analyzed thoroughly.

Before the grant money ran out, the Health Department gathered information from about six communities and analyzed data for three: Pleasant Valley, Cranberry and Bark Hill, he said.

A public water and sewer system is being constructed in Pleasant Valley with $1.5 million in state and county money, Mr. Zeleski said. Bark Hill is getting a public water system, and public water and sewer service in Cranberry is being discussed by Westminster and county officials, he said.

Even if the Health Department could take action against the Lineboro residents with septic problems, Mr. Singer said, most of the homeowners wouldn't be able to correct them because of the cost involved and the limitations of small lots.

In older communities such as Lineboro, Mr. Zeleski said, the lots are too small to install individual septic systems that meet Health Department standards.

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