If you have a cesspool within 200 feet of a drinking well, a public reservoir, or the coastline, expect to receive a $200 citation in the mail from the Department of Environmental Management. The deadline to replace cesspools with a septic system or to connect to a municipal sewer system has passed.
Cesspools are holes in the ground used to get rid of human waste from buildings. The untreated waste seeps into the soil and contaminates ground and surface waters. A law to phase out cesspools focuses on cesspools within public drinking water supplies or the coastline.
David Chopy, the DEM’s chief of the office of compliance and inspection, said the department sent out notices without penalties last year, but it still hasn’t heard back from many people. That’s why the department is sending out $200 citations as the next step to enforce the law. Chopy said people will have 60 days to comply before the notice expires.
“But if the notice expires and people don’t comply, then we could subject thousand dollar a day fines,” said Chopy. "The penalties could go up substantially if people do not comply with this notice.”
The DEM has sent out nearly 30 notices so far and plans to send about 20 each month from now through October. Chopy said the General Assembly recently gave the DEM the green light to issue these expedited citations.
"So this is a new tool that we have available to us and we wanted to use it in this particular case because our goal is to really get people into compliance, not to assess large penalties against people."
The DEM will not pursue further enforcement action when people comply with the first expedited notice. People who can't afford to replace their cesspools may file a financial hardship with the department to get an extension to comply.
People who do not comply will have violations recorded on their land evidence records, in addition to higher penalties. Those violations may affect titles when people try to sell or refinance their homes. Chopy said these expedited citations are an opportunity to get violations resolved quickly without steeper fines and lawyer fees.
“So it’s in their best interest to try to work through this notice that we will be sending out and get into compliance to avoid the next enforcement step,” said Chopy.
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