Cottage vs. industry

  • Owners of 158 seasonal cottages, like these on Blackberry Lane, along the Susquehanna River have been non-compliant with local water and wastewater regulations, according to Exerlon Power, which owns the land.
Owners of 158 seasonal cottages, like these on Blackberry Lane,… (MATT BUTTON | AEGIS STAFF,…)

Times change. Sometimes it's for the better. Sometimes not so much. Sometimes it's a little of both.

Way back when Conowingo Dam was built 82 years ago, the territory along the lower Susquehanna River was relatively wild and remote, the ideal place for a sporting cottage, a base of operations for fishing, hunting, boating and otherwise enjoying the Susquehanna Valley.

Unlike other major rivers along the Eastern Seaboard like the Connecticut, Delaware, or James, the Susquehanna isn't a shipping route inland, so, unlike the other rivers of comparable size, it's lower reaches remained, and to some degree remain even now, relatively wild.

As it happens, a remnant of an era when the lower river valley was more of a vacation spot than it is considered these days, is regarded in modern terms as something of a threat to the natural qualities of the river. Namely, 158 seasonal cottages built on power company land (these days owned by the energy giant Exelon) are believed to be out of compliance with local and state sanitary water and sewer regulations. Though the cottages are built on power company land, the buildings are owned by various individuals, and the power company recently hired a consultant to check on the status of the water and septic systems that serve the cottages.

The power company says the existing systems aren't in compliance, which could mean raw sewage is seeping from the cottages – located in Harford, Cecil, York and Lancaster counties —  into the river. Such seeping nutrient pollution causes algae blooms that have been recognized for decades as being at the heart of Chesapeake Bay and lower Susquehanna water quality degradation.

It stands to reason the power company doesn't want to be held responsible for sewage polluting the river and bay, or responsible for owning the land where vacationers are consuming potentially unsanitary water.

On the other hand, it wouldn't be the first time a corporate giant that once regarded ground rent paid by cottage owners as a tidy sum of free money now regards the cottages and people who use them as potential sources of liability. It does, after all, seem a little odd that all of the cottages are being targeted at one time. And it also seems a bit strange that the power company, not, say, the Health Department or some other responsible agency, is behind a recent move to require water and wastewater upgrades at the cottages.

It may well be true that every one of the 158 cottages in question is in violation of water and wastewater regulations. That, however, shouldn't end up serving as a reason for divesting the people who own the cottages and have kept up to date with payments to the power company of those cottages.

The places were built, after all, not as full-time residences, and at a time when different rules applied. A measure of accommodation, therefore, needs to be made to take such factors into account.

After all, if modern standards were strictly applied not only to the cottages, but also to Conowingo Dam, the dam itself would probably have to be removed. It's hard to imagine a permit being issued these days for a new Susquehanna dam.

Just as it would be foolish to presume the dam needs to be removed because it was built before modern regulations were in place, it would be similarly unfair to demand that vacation cottages built eight decades ago need to be brought up to strict modern standards.

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