Pumpers and installers in the Granite State worry as growth in housing stock outstrips wastewater capacity at municipal treatment plants.
The issues haven’t changed much since the New Hampshire Association of Septage Haulers (NHASH) was formed in 1981: disposal options, fees, and the rules that regulate the onsite wastewater industry. Industry concerns about those topics prompted the state Department of Environmental Services (DES) to help pumpers form a group to influence the things that matter to them.
“That’s the kind of cooperative spirit we’ve had right along,” says Bill Gosse, former NHASH vice president and currently a member of the legislative liaison committee. “It’s pretty good to be part of that.” The group has about 45 members, mainly pumpers and portable restroom operators, with many also installing onsite systems.
NHASH started because of the state?
Gosse: Some of the pumpers apparently went to Dick Flanders of DES saying what the state was doing wasn’t right. He was the catalyst to contact pumpers and get the association started to work on the issues they brought up. Dick has long since retired but is well remembered by all of us.
A lot of our members are also members of Granite State Designers and Installers (featured in June 2014). That affiliation has helped us because there is strength in numbers; we communicate constantly. We also work with the North East Biosolids and Residuals Association (NEBRA). It’s just one big alliance.
Are there any hot issues right now?
Gosse: It’s fairly quiet, and I credit that to the groundwork we’ve laid. If you don’t do anything else, get to know your legislators and regulators. Our ability to make a phone call and go meet with those people has been crucial. We have a lot of access to regulators and work with them on pretty much a daily basis. The Legislature has also been very supportive.
We do have one issue coming up. There’s going to be a study of land application and generally when you have a study like that, someone is looking at some type of regulation, so we’re a little concerned about that.
About eight years ago, we were able to convince DES to form a task force for the purpose of studying septage. At the time, septage was tied directly to the sludge industry so we fell under their rules, which were very stringent and didn’t apply to us. As a result, the rules were rewritten and we got our own set of rules that are very specific to our industry.
Is disposal an important issue in New Hampshire?
Gosse: It is our biggest concern. The volume of septage is growing but our disposal options are not. We’ve gone from 78 million gallons in 2009 to 97 million last year. Land application accounts for 7 million gallons. We don’t have any new wastewater treatment plants being built, yet we have new homes being built, so there’s always more septage.
In some cases, pumpers are driving 40 miles to a disposal site. As part of the task force eight years ago, we got legislation for a septage coordinator at the state level. The primary job of that individual, Ray Gordon, is to be the liaison between treatment plants and the haulers. He does an excellent job and has had some success in getting plants to accept more septage.
We still have plants that accept no septage at all. There is a law on the books that each town and city must provide a septage disposal site. It’s a fairly weak law that says they have to provide access to a facility; it does not have to be local. There’s one plant that has 21 towns and cities signed up and, until a few years ago, only accepted 5,000 gallons a day. But that met the letter of the law. We keep trying to get it changed but there’s been some resistance.
Also, of the 97 million gallons, 21 million goes out of state. So, if an out-of-state plant decides they’re not going to accept New Hampshire waste anymore, we’ll have a problem.
What’s another initiative you’re working on?
Gosse: A piece of legislation is spring highway weight limits that are needed to prevent damage to roads during the thawing process. We have not been an exempt industry like the fuel oil industry, dairy and agriculture. We’re trying to get our legislative group to understand that we’re dealing with a health issue.
In most cases, roads are posted for a 5-ton gross weight limit for four to six weeks in spring. Our trucks weigh well over that, so we can’t take our trucks out to pump a tank that needs it. Obviously, you have to use common sense. You don’t go out with a full truck and pick up another 1,000 gallons. You run with the lightest truck you can and go out early in the morning when the ground is hard. We’re really trying to deal with emergencies, not day-to-day activities.
In my area of central New Hampshire, the road agents are very good about it. If you call them and explain the situation, more often than not they’ll give you permission. But that can be a hassle, especially on weekends. We’ve already testified at one hearing and the committee understood our issue and seemed favorable.
Beyond regulatory and legislative work, what does NHASH offer members?
Gosse: We sponsor a fair amount of training. When we do, we invite non-members to join us because we want them educated so they’re not making mistakes that reflect badly on all of us. It’s also an attempt to get them to join us.
We do two or three educational sessions a year on topics as they come up, and invite the employees of our members. At one of our meetings, an insurance company affiliate member mentioned that septic tank covers are getting pretty heavy. So they brought in some of their loss-prevention people to talk about how to properly lift them and what kinds of weights you should be picking up.
We’ve done confined-space entry training. We’ve worked with the New Hampshire Department of Safety on truck and highway issues; every year or two we’ll have a couple of state troopers come in and talk about new regulations and what they’re looking for when they stop our trucks. That’s a pretty informative evening.
We had a session on promoting our businesses on social media. Most of us are older and not really in tune with social media. And we did a session on how to value your business if you’re going to sell it.
Our scholarship program is available to anybody who is related to a member of the association or in environmental studies. For the public, we offer town meetings to talk about how to take care of a septic system.
Do you do any continuing education?
Gosse: There’s no requirement for licensing or continuing education in New Hampshire. We have brought it up in the past and the state has brought it up. But at this point, if you have your pump truck inspected by DES, you’re in the pumping industry. I think licensing and continuing education is a good idea, but it’s probably going to be a long way down the road.
Reach Bill Gosse at email@example.com or 603/269-3441.