When the regional Yankee Onsite Wastewater Association disbanded, members reorganized to address wastewater issues in one state.
The Yankee Onsite Wastewater Association once represented onsite professionals across six New England states. Yankee no longer exists, but the Massachusetts Association of Onsite Wastewater Professionals (MAOWP) has emerged to focus its efforts on a single state. A member of the six-state group, Russell Martin, P.E., of Maine, is acting president of the new group until a new slate of officers can be elected.
Made up of onsite contractors, designers, regulators and equipment suppliers, MAOWP is ready to begin expanding from its current 51 members and is preparing to offer more services for those members.
How did this all come about?
Martin: The Yankee Onsite Wastewater Association formed in 2006. At the time, the thinking was that there wasn’t enough interest in any one state to form an affiliate with the National Onsite Wastewater Recycling Association, but there would be if the six states bonded together. It never really got a lot of traction except in Massachusetts, and we still have a few members from Rhode Island. [The other states were New Hampshire, Connecticut, Vermont and Maine].
In late 2012 the incoming president and vice president decided they just had too many other commitments and couldn’t serve, so that triggered discussion about being a Massachusetts organization since that is where the bulk of our members are. Of the 51 members, 41 are from Massachusetts.
We reformed in early 2013 as MAOWP. I was the president of the Yankee group in 2010 and 2011, so I’ve been serving as the acting president until the organization can get its feet on the ground and someone from Massachusetts can take over.
As a new organization, what is your primary area of focus?
Martin: We are trying to develop a system to train and certify onsite installers in the state. The way it works now, every community has a board of health that is responsible for dealing with onsite wastewater systems. Each one deals with them a little differently; generally each has its own requirements if you want to be an installer. You have to get licensed in each community and most of them have their own exam. We’re trying to come up with a standardized program that all the communities will buy into.
Right now we’re discussing if we want to have an exam specific to Massachusetts or use the National Environmental Health Association exam. We’ve been soliciting input from the health officers around the state about what they think is best and how we can implement this to help them. I’m hoping the initial training can be done by spring 2015.
How have local officials reacted to the idea?
Martin: It’s been pretty positive; they like the idea. I think they’d like to see an exam more specific to our state regulations in Massachusetts that define how to design systems, how big they have to be, how they are constructed and so forth. Any exam, to be worthwhile, would have to test people’s knowledge of how to construct a system.
Last fall we went to the Massachusetts Health Officers Association meeting and gave a presentation. The response was pretty positive. They envision it as making their job a little easier if they can rely on a common exam. As we’ve proposed it, MAOWP would develop the exam, administer it and keep the records.
How about the state?
Martin: They’ve been very open to the idea of working with us and helping us develop the program. They don’t really have a role in licensing installers at this time. Massachusetts certifies soil evaluators [SE] and system inspectors [SI]. All SEs and most SIs have to pass certifying exams.
I think what would happen over time if this idea catches on and more and more communities adopt it, the state at some point might say there should be a statewide license. I don’t see it being a state program now, maybe some time in the future.
Licensing generally involves continuing education. How is that handled now?
Martin: Both SE and SI certifications are renewed on a three-year basis. For the first renewal, no continuing education hours are required. Each subsequent renewal requires 10 hours of preapproved training. This process is managed by the New England Interstate Water Pollution Control Commission [formed in 1947 to coordinate water-related needs in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont].
There is no certification or licensing requirement for installers at this time. That’s one reason we thought this would be a good idea. If you have the requirement for one class of professionals, you really should have it for all. I think our members are in favor of it.
We live in a changing world; new things are always coming along. You have to try to keep up with things.
What are the key issues in Massachusetts?
Martin: There are parts of the state where nitrogen is a big concern, generally the coastal areas. Around the inland lakes, of course, the concern tends to be more about phosphorus. Generally, we are concerned about how to make sure systems are built and inspected properly.
We’ve tried to offer training courses a couple of times a year, but we didn’t in 2014. We did put together a summary document explaining the 2014 changes to the state regulations. That’s available on our website.
We are a co-sponsor of the New England Short Course, which is a three-day exhibition and educational conference, including field trips, offered every three or four years with experts from around the country speaking about onsite wastewater issues. The last one was in 2012 in Rhode Island and it was held in Connecticut a couple of times before that. We’re planning to do another one, probably in 2016. It takes a couple of years to organize something like that.
Your membership is mainly installers, designers and equipment suppliers. What about pumpers, cleaners and other onsite professionals?
Martin: They are certainly welcome to join. We haven’t had much involvement from them, not that we wouldn’t welcome it. We’re fairly small so we’ve been busy getting organized, writing new bylaws and getting reincorporated.
What do you see for MAOWP in the next five years?
Martin: I hope the membership will increase significantly. As that happens we can do more things. Hopefully the certification idea takes off; I can see that developing into a pretty significant program. The sky is the limit; it depends on who becomes actively involved.
Times are changing in all groups like this. There are a lot of factors; the economy obviously has something to do with it. Every professional association is going through declining membership and changing interests in how people want to interact. People don’t want to just go to the traditional meeting.
As we grow we’ve tried to expand our website. Someday maybe we’ll have a Facebook page or Twitter account. Those seem to be the types of things people want and groups need to be aware of that. It seems that the younger members, particularly, want to interact that way. So how do you reach them, get them involved and meet their needs?