While it won’t come without costing homeowners, City Council approval of $56 million in bonds to extend sewers and upgrade the wastewater treatment plant appears to have averted fines for some residents with cesspools. Notices carry a $200 penalty and fines of up to $2,500.
Last week, the Department of Environmental Management (DEM) issued citations to 29 property owners of violations of the Cesspool Act of 2007. They were the first of the “worst of the worst” – 229 cesspools identified within 200 feet of the coast or 200 feet of public wells and drinking water reservoirs.
The department will cite about 20 property owners every month, said David Chopy, chief of DEM’s Office of Compliance and Inspection, until the list is completed.
“We’ve just protected a significant number of our people from $2,500,” said Ward 5 Councilman Ed Ladouceur.
Ladouceur chairs the council sewer review commission that spearheaded extending sewers to six neighborhoods, including Riverview and Highland Beach, where a number of shoreline, small-lot properties continue to use cesspools.
Since there is a commitment to bring sewers to these neighborhoods, even though it could be another six years before they are operational, they are exempt from citation. It doesn’t mean, Ladouceur pointed out, that DEM won’t take action if cesspools are posing a public health hazard.
“Had we not done that [identified areas for sewer extensions and approved bonding for their construction], a lot of people would have been faced with fines. I’m so happy we got this done for the people,” he said.
“To any community committed to installing sewers, there’s an extension,” said Angelo Liberti, DEM chief of surface water protection and a member of the sewer review commission. He said homeowners awaiting the construction of sewers will be asked to certify they will connect when sewers become available.
The intent of enforcing the legislation, stressed Chopy, is not to levy and collect fines but to put an end to cesspools in these environmentally sensitive areas. Yet the fines will increase the longer the violation continues to exist. The objective is to get those with violations to take corrective action sooner rather than later.
When available, sewers, rather than septic systems, are viewed as the best means of treating wastewater.
“Sewers are the best wastewater technology possible,” said DEM Director Janet Coit.
In a statement issued by the department, Coit said, “Initially, we identified 3,100 properties that may be subject to the Cesspool Act. While the Department has a responsibility to enforce the Cesspool Act, we also recognize the financial burden this has on property owners. Issuing these Notices is a way that we hope will get property owners into compliance without imposing onerous penalties.”
Of the 29 initial citations, three went to Warwick homeowners in neighborhoods where there are presently sewers and they haven’t connected, or in areas not slated to get sewers. Chopy said the first 29 were selected on the basis that they failed to respond to prior notices.
“These are the worst of the worst,” he said.
Homeowners believed in violation of the act are notified by certified mail and informed that a notice of violation will be recorded with the city’s land evidence records, encumbering the title to the property and the assessment of an additional monetary penalty that could be as much as $1,000 a day.
Property owners with questions are urged to contact Jonathan Zwarg at 222-4700 ext. 7205, or by email at email@example.com.