Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Marathon County septage hauler fined for multiple violations

EAU CLAIRE, Wis. - A Marathon County septic tank pumping and disposal firm has been fined more than $2,600 for multiple violations of state laws in place to protect human health and safety, to protect groundwater and surface water, and to minimize nuisance conditions.

RTC Transit doing business as Rural Septic Service was found guilty in Marathon County Circuit on one violation and in Wood County Circuit Court of two violations resulting from citations from the Department of Natural Resources for failing to obey disposal and pathogen control requirements.

The company was ordered to pay a total of $867.50 in penalties for the Marathon County citation and $1,735 in penalties for the Wood County citations.

"Septage spreading is environmentally beneficial when done properly," said Jeanne Calhoun, a DNR wastewater specialist and the septage coordinator. "We save energy and reduce pollution when nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus can be reused. But when regulations are ignored there is a potential for harm."

Septage is defined as the contents from septic or holding tanks, privies, grease interceptors and portable restrooms. The DNR regulates licensed septage businesses to protect human health and safety, to protect groundwater and surface water, and to minimize nuisance conditions. Operators must pass exams and pursue continuing education credits in order to be certified.

While some haulers dispose of septage at wastewater treatment plants, many use land spreading, in some cases because a treatment facility is not available but also to use the nutrients to fertilize crops. Haulers are required to follow specific application guidelines, based in part on crop harvesting cycles, and to use one of three approved processing or treatment methods to render the material safe. Records for each batch must be kept for five years. Land spreading sites must be left free of litter.

In the Marathon County civil case, Rural Septic Service spread two loads of holding tank waste on a snow covered, frozen field, which is not allowed under state rules. The field in question was only approved for use when vegetation was present. By spreading on a snow covered, frozen field, the potential for harmful run off increases.

In the Wood County case, Rural Septic Service spread septage waste on an unapproved field and failed to use lime to raise the pH as a method of pathogen control.

The civil cases were successfully prosecuted by Marathon County District Attorney Sandra Marcus and by Wood County District Attorney Kelly Lehn.

The DNR resolves violations through a "stepped enforcement" process employing the lowest level appropriate for the circumstances. Enforcement letters and conferences achieve voluntary compliance for most minor violations. More significant or repetitive violations may result in the issuance of civil citations or in prosecution by the state Department of Justice. In many cases, such as this one, multiple tools such as these are used to achieve compliance.

"Citations were not the first step in this case," Calhoun said, "the DNR is willing to work with operators who ask for help, and if the violations are not too serious, penalties can be avoided."

Additional violations could lead to revocation of the business license, revocation of operator certification or both.

In addition to investigating citizen complaints, specially trained DNR teams are now conducting county-wide audits of septage haulers. Inspecting multiple companies within a similar timeframe makes the most efficient use of taxpayer dollars, provides a more consistent approach to regulation and helps improve voluntary compliance through education.

In addition to health and safety issues, and concerns about pollution, the DNR recognizes the value of fair competition in the market place. Businesses that operate out of compliance can achieve a competitive advantage over businesses that follow the rules. An increased presence by the DNR, and the use of multiple tools to achieve compliance, helps level the playing field, allowing well run businesses and their employees to stay on the job.

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