Massachusetts Septic and Drain Cleaning Licensing Proposals Viewed as Burdensome

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Two bills in the Massachusetts Legislature concern Frank King, and one of them really concerns him.

King runs Action King Services in Lowell, Massachusetts, and he is a former member of the board of directors of the National Association of Wastewater Technicians. His company handles domestic and commercial pumping, jetting and drain cleaning. Although his company is located in Lowell, it covers a 100-mile radius that takes technicians into Vermont and Maine for some clients.

The bill that really concerns him is H146. Introduced earlier this year, it would create a statewide septic license. That doesn’t sound bad, except for a sentence that says a license could not be held by a business.

“It is my belief they want to license each person and that would be a headache. If I have to train people to get a license, I don’t know how I’m going to find the help,” King says. He also adds that there is already a shortage of people in Massachusetts who hold a commercial driver’s license, “and a lot of people don’t want to do this work because it isn’t clean.”

King says he often must hire people fresh from driving school, only to see them quit after they have six months or one year of experience with him. Other job applicants are recent immigrants. They’re good people and work hard, but they are not fluent in English and that impairs communication with customers. If a licensing course becomes mandatory, that lack of language skill will effectively close off opportunities for those immigrant workers, King says.

The last time he searched for a driver it took two to three months to find one. Then there’s his in-house training process, which requires about a year to complete. And it’s not as if he has extra workers. Of the 16 employees at his firm, 11 are driver technicians. Take a couple of vacancies, add someone on vacation, and his staff is down about 30 percent. If the bill becomes law and the license process requires continuing education credits, employers will have more billable time to cover, he says.

“In addition to other clients, we service a supermarket chain that has more than 80 stores. The work of every person counts here,” King says.

Licensing is currently done by each municipality through its local board of health, and that works well, King says. He doesn’t know where H146 came from, and no one has asked the opinion of pumpers. He’s been told the bill will have a hearing in the fall.

The other bill that bothers him is H140. It would order the state Board of Plumbers to establish licensing standards for people who clean drains. Cleaning a pipe to a tank is often part of the pumping service his technicians perform. And again, requiring a license for someone to do this simple work adds another burden to doing business, he says.

This bill is new, but the idea is not. It has been introduced before, during the 2013-14 session and again in the 2015-16 session. Both times it died in committee.


The San Juan Basin Public Health Board in Durango is considering rule revisions for onsite wastewater systems that should take effect sometime in the next 12 months. This is the result of new rules required by the state as well as other rules that are optional for health boards. New rules would probably be introduced during the winter in order to take effect between construction seasons, the Durango Herald reports.

Three main rule changes are being considered. One rule change would require inspections of onsite systems when a property is sold. Other Colorado counties have experienced a 25 percent increase in the number of permits for repairs and alterations when they began requiring inspections. The second rule change would allow advanced treatment units, provided there is a provision for regular maintenance. And the third rule change would allow people to restore a failing onsite system as an alternative to replacing it.

The health board, which covers two counties, also has the option of enacting a state rule that alters how wastewater system capacity is calculated. To account for the desire of some people to have homes of only 100 to 400 square feet — commonly called tiny homes — the state is allowing for smaller onsite systems. Previously, the smallest system allowed was sized for the wastewater output of a two-bedroom house.


Neighbors who started a legal fight to oust a pumping business lost a round in court, but they may appeal the decision. Citizens in Warren County, located between Dayton and Cincinnati, wanted SepTek Services out of their neighborhood. The company has 16 acres for its operation, but under a conditional zoning permit, it may operate on only five of those. In addition, it cannot store, treat or dump septage or biosolids on the land; must plant at least 25 trees and build a berm as a buffer for neighboring properties; and faces limits on the hours vehicles can operate.

Neighbors complained about noise and went to court to appeal the permit granted by the Warren County Rural Zoning Board of Appeals, reported the Dayton Daily News. A judge appointed to hear the case said the crucial decision in this matter was actually made some time ago when the county Board of Commissioners allowed a variety of more intensive conditional land uses.


Some citizens of Gays Mills, a small town in the southwestern part of the state, recently renewed longtime complaints over paying sewer fees, even though they have their own onsite systems.

Bernard and Virginia Murphy have lived in their home for 22 years and have paid the flat rate fee even though their home is disconnected from sewer lines, reports the Crawford County Independent. They have paid $6,000 in fees for a service they have never used.

“We have our own septic system, and it works very well,” Virginia Murphy told the Village Board. She said 26 residences were never connected but have paid $158,000.

No one on the Village Board was certain when the village implemented the policy of charging people for unused service, but records suggested it began no later than 1990. Harry Heisz, the village president, said he understands the citizens’ concerns, but he also said the money they pay is important to the village budget.


Bastrop County, located southeast of Austin, held a public hearing on updates to its onsite wastewater rules. Among other changes, the rule will allow homeowners with a wastewater license to service and maintain their septic systems. The changes will update the county rules to conform with changes in state regulations.

Another change would require each dwelling to have a septic tank of at least 750 gallons. Philip Merino, the county’s environmental and sanitation manager, said requests for systems for tiny homes — dwellings of 100 to 400 square feet — would be handled individually, but owners would likely be required to have a 750-gallon tank.


A federal appeals court said a pumper who lost his license without notice or a hearing may proceed in his lawsuit against Brown County. The county is about 20 miles south of Indianapolis.

In 2013, John Simpson’s name was removed from a list of county-approved installers after county officials sent a vague notice about a problem on his mother’s property, reported The Indiana Lawyer. Simpson sued, claiming he was denied his right of due process, but the suit was dismissed.

Simpson appealed the dismissal, and a three-judge panel of the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with him. “The County had a septic ordinance that plainly described the process for the placement of septic installers on a register and (not so plainly) described the process for their removal,” Judge David Hamilton wrote in the panel’s ruling.

None of the statements in Simpson’s complaint show the county had an urgent need to revoke his license without a hearing, Hamilton wrote.

Ontario, Canada

Pumpers in Bracebridge, located about 100 miles north of Toronto, told a government committee that the area’s high dumping fees are killing their local businesses.

Everybody’s in trouble, and all of them are hard-working families, said Ken Jones of K & K Sanitation. According to the Bracebridge Examiner, Jones told the councilors for the District Municipality of Muskoka, “One company just went out of business. There could be more.”

Heather Becker, co-owner of B & B Sanitation, said the district’s fees for dumping septage are the highest in Ontario: $213 per 1,000 gallons. Other municipalities charge $25 to $60, she said.

Jones said pumpers from outside the area can now drive in, service clients, and haul septage to municipalities where they pay much lower fees.


Poor maintenance of septic systems is not only common in the United States: About half of the septic systems inspected in 2016 failed to meet standards of the Ireland Environmental Protection Agency, reported The Irish Independent.

Local officials looked at 1,110 onsite systems last year and said 545 (or 49 percent) failed inspection. In 2015, about 45 percent of 1,097 tanks failed to pass inspection. The inspection program began in 2013 and focuses on areas where there is the greatest risk to public health and water resources.

The two most common reasons for inspection failures in 2015 were improper operation and maintenance of the system and a need for pumping.


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