State issues sewage violation against Sunrise Lake

| 17 Mar 2016 | 04:19

Editor's note: This story has been updated from the original to reflect late responses received from the property owners association president, who said he could not comment because of pending litigation, and the township sewer enforcement officer, who has provide a full explanation of his understanding of the sewer mound issue at Sunrise Lake.

By Anya Tikka
— Residents continue to complain about sewer and water problems at Sunrise Lake.

Some say their ground and well water are contaminated, and that their sewage mounds, which are supposed to filter wastewater, are failing.

An inspector from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) found that a leaky sewer mound is polluting the water in the area, a matter in dispute. Some residents claim the property owners’ association is not following through by notifying affected residents.

Chip Dingman, president of the Sunrise Lakes Property Owners Association, said he could not comment because of pending litigation brought by the resident.

A resident told the Courier he wished to remain anonymous because of a pending lawsuit. He said the DEP told the property owners' association to shut down the failed sewage system at the end of January because it was leaking. The DEP also took soil samples in early February, and the test results, according to the resident, “came back very bad.”

The state says it's looking to the township to address the issue.

"The township just sent the Sunrise Lake administration a Notice of Violation," said Colleen Connolly, DEP's North East Pennsylvania representative, in an email to the Courier. "DEP is not directly involved in this other than the township sewage enforcement officer keeping us informed of what steps it is taking to remedy the situation."

Chris Wood, Dingman Township's code enforcement officer, told the Courier he has seen no documentation says the water or soil at Sunrise Lake is contaminated. He did, however, confirm that one of the systems broken down due to lack of proper maintenance.

"There is a problem with the section 9 sewer system," he said. "Two were recently reburbished, and two are beyond repair."

He disputes the idea that wetlands caused the problem. The mounds were built about 30 years ago, before his time as sewer enforcement officer. But even in that time, he said, the state would have had to approve the mound design, which it would never have done if they were sited on wetlands.

Wood said the two failed mounds broken down because accumulated solids got into the absorption area.

"This is the result of the property owners not pumping their septic tanks often enough, (the) individual property owners in section 9," said Wood.

He said the two refurbished mounds are working and should be able to handle the section because only about half of the 38 residences using the system are occupied. However, he said, one of two working mounds did start to leak about two weeks ago, and the property owners association is trying to correct the problem by patching it. Time will tell if the fix works, he said. If he doesn't, he said, it will cost homeowners thousands of dollars.

Wood said that because of the wet ground caused by recent rains, he hasn't visited the site recently but plans to go in the next few days.

The DEP took water tests in the wetland behind the sewage mound that came back positive for raw sewage, said the resident.

"The contamination is so bad, we all are in shock at how bad it is," he said. "We never knew it was this bad. I just cannot imagine why anyone would allow this to happen. You either are a criminal or a crazy person to allow this to happen in our community.”

The affected residents say the property owners association has not been truthful about the matter. The association told some residents to cut back on their water use because of leaks but never notified residents affected by contamination, they say.

“When the DEP comes back to test the second mound and finds that it is being overused and ponding, they will tell the POA to shut that one down and force them all to use porta potties,” said the resident with the pending lawsuit.

According to affected residents, wastewater continues to leak from the sewage mound.

The DEP is in the middle of an administrative legal case against the board of the property owners association, while the affected residents are ready for a civil case and then a criminal case against the board.

“Without the DEP, the contamination would only get worse, it would contaminate other wells, especially the community wells, where we believe the Section 9 Well number 1 has been contaminated,” the resident said.

He urged everyone in Pike County to test their wells for contamination that could make them sick.

Last year, the affected residents filed a complaint with Chris Wood, Dingman Township's code enforcement officer. Wood at first said there was no sewage problem at Sunrise, then later, after the DEP visited the site, reported that one of the mounds was leaking.

Calls and emails to Wood were not returned.

The resident said oral arguments in the case will be presented before a judge on April 11.

"My law firm is 110 percent behind us," he said. "We are going all the way to court to get this resolved."