We have seen it all too often. A project is nearing completion, final approval is on the horizon, and the question arises- did you receive sewage facilities planning approval? If the answer is no, sit back and get comfortable because your project, which was slated to break ground in 3 weeks, won’t be receiving final approval for potentially 6-9 months. Below is a quick reference guide to Sewage Facility Planning Exemptions and Waivers help prevent a situation like the one we just described and potentially streamline the planning process.
Exemptions and Waivers – What are they?
Waivers from sewage facilities planning are given to projects that don’t meet the definition of a subdivision and lot per Chapter 71 definitions. If the lot is existing or not deemed to be subdivided due to estimated sewage flows or due to the nature of the project, a waiver can be granted.
Exemptions from planning are a streamlined process to obtain sewage facilities planning approval and can be applied for when the conditions of Chapter 71, Section 71. 51(b)(1) and (2) have been met.
In general, projects proposing on-lot systems may be eligible for an exemption if:
- The municipality’s Act 537 Plan indicates that the area in which the project is located is to be served by on-lot systems, and
- The area proposed for use of an on-lot system is not underlain by carbonate geology nor is this area located within ¼ mile of water supplies documented to exceed 5 PPM nitrate-nitrogen, and
- The area proposed for development is outside of high quality or exceptional value watersheds, and
- Subdivided lots and the remaining portion of the original tract after subdivision are 1 acre or larger, and
- Soils testing and site evaluations establish that separate, permittable sites are available for primary and replacement areas.
In general, projects proposing a connection to or extension of public sewers may be eligible for an exemption if:
- The existing collection, conveyance, and treatment facilities are in compliance with The Clean Streams Law and the rules and regulations thereunder, and
- The receiving sewerage facilities do not have an existing hydraulic or organic overload or a 5-year projected overload, and
- Written certification documenting that there is adequate capacity from all of the permittees of the collection, conveyance, and treatment facilities has been provided to the municipality. The certification must indicate that there is a capacity to receive and treat the sewage flows from the proposed project and that the additional waste load from the proposed project will not create a hydraulic or organic overload or a 5-year projected overload, and
- The municipality has a current approved sewage facilities plan which is being implemented.
Estimated Sewage Flows and “Deemed” Subdivisions: If there is no physical subdivision of land and:
- If the proposed additional flows are less than 400 gpd (gallons per day) and regardless of the total flows of the property (even if they are over 800 gpd), the property is not deemed to have been subdivided;
- If the proposed flows are 400 gpd or more and the total flows for the property are less than 800 gpd the property is not deemed subdivided
- If the proposed flows are 400 gpd or greater and the total flows for the property are 800 gpd or more, the property is deemed subdivided. Therefore, sewage facilities planning is required and may be completed as an exemption (if applicable) or an adopted sewage facilities planning module.
What if your project proposes a lot line change or a subdivision for non-building purposes (agricultural lots, for example)?
- Projects proposing a lot line change or a subdivision for non-building purposes may submit the Request for Planning Waiver and Non-Building Declaration (formerly known as the Form B). The Southeast Regional Office also routinely accepts an application mailer, along with a short narrative and a plot plan, for projects of these types and if acceptable, will respond to the applicant, indicating that sewage facilities planning is not required.
For any and all questions relating to Sewage Facilities Planning, and the ability to streamline the process, please give us a call at (610) 918-9002 and we will be more than happy to discuss all of the planning options.
#1 WHAT IS YOUR PROFESSION? – If your profession is a doctor or lawyer ( land use attorneys are exempt) this is going to be a huge problem. You may want to stop reading right now and forget your project completely. If you choose to keep reading please do so at your own risk. Ok, here goes. You are too smart for this project. Now, that was NOT a compliment. What it means is, 99.9% of you (this number was scientifically calculated by me) THINK that because you were successful at achieving a degree in medicine or a law degree that you can somehow understand and navigate this process. Listen very closely to the next part. YOU CAN’T!!!! Again….YOU CAN’T!! I am an engineer, yet I chose an orthopedic surgeon to do my ACL reconstructive surgery, there is a reason for that.
#2 SHOULD YOU HIRE AN ENGINEER? – YES, especially if you are # 1.
#3 WILL THE ENGINEERING PROCESS BE CHEAP? – NO (sorry, you can blame your lawmakers for that) But, the good news is, if you are #1 or #2 you will be fine. Actually, you will be fine anyway.
#4 MEETING WITH THE TOWNSHIP TO DISCUSS YOUR PROJECT – This may be as important or more important than # 1. Understanding that you want to control # 3 because you did # 2 but if you are # 1 you should NEVER meet with anyone at the Township on your own. The reason you should not is explained in #1. But, in layman’s terms, you will not meet with the correct people, you will not ask the correct questions, you will not understand the answers you received to the incorrect questions and most importantly, you will undoubtedly leave the meeting being overly optimistic that you have received approval and that the Municipality is in love with you and your project. Reality is, nothing was approved and the Municipality neither loves nor hates your project. This is critical to understand because when you come in to meet with your engineer bursting with enthusiasm and optimism we have to “bring you down to earth”, which is never pleasant. You then view us/me as Mr. Negative, Debbie Downer etc. when I am really just being Mr. Reality or Mr. Been Doing This for 26 Years.
#5 HANDLING OUTSIDE AGENCY APPROVALS ON YOUR OWN – I simply cannot say NO loud enough. Again….you will likely need approval for your “home” project from the County Conservation District, the County Health Department, possibly PA DOT. Yes, you can google them and call them and ask questions but you will set into motion a few fun things that really are not fun. First and foremost, the people that work at those agencies are helpful, but also busy and it is often difficult for them to explain all that needs to be done to someone that has zero experience with “the process”. Therefore, you will often get (and rightly so) the Cliff Notes version of what is required. You will then digest about 30% to 35% of the Cliff Notes information you received and pass about 20% of that information accurately which results in about 6% to 7% good information. That is not good in case you were wondering. Think of it like this. You need open heart surgery and your anesthesiologist needs to discuss the surgery with your heart surgeon. Do you want to meet with the anesthesiologist on your own and then explain what he/she said or needs to your surgeon? The answer is, you don’t.
#6 CONSULTING WITH YOUR RELATIVE THAT IS AN ELECTRICAL ENGINEER IN SOUTH DAKOTA – Yeh, this is not going to help. While your cousin Jed may have a degree from South Dakota State University in electrical engineering he, unfortunately, will not be of any use whatsoever. We will always be polite and let him participate but in the end, you are wasting your, our and Jed’s time I promise you.
#7 THE USE OF LOGIC – Hands down the most dangerous thing you can do. Avoid logic like the plague no matter how much it tempts you. And trust me, you will be doing all you can to not revert back to logic all the time. You must live and die by ordinances and regulations AND definitions of any and all words. Logic has absolutely no place in the world of approvals in Pennsylvania I am sorry to report. Example – Denny, I don’t need stormwater management, my driveway will be stone. WRONG! Stone is defined as impervious. Denny, I am not adding any impervious cover, I am building my addition over my existing driveway. WRONG AGAIN! Last one, and this is my favorite….I get the chills even typing it. Denny, the Township will love this, it gets them “ratables”. Just for the record, I can’t stand the word “ratables”. RIGHT and WRONG actually. Right, it does get the Township “ratables” but WRONG they are not going to love you for it. Every project, I say again, EVERY project causes the dreaded 3 (followed by my favorite things I hear over and over and over ). 1. Traffic ( There is so much traffic on that road I can’t even pull out of my driveway in the morning Denny!) 2. School-age children (How in the heck will the school district be able to afford ALL these new children Denny? ) I fight hard not to scream out “WITH SCHOOL TAXES YOU &@%!!”. And, my personal favorite 3. Where will all of this stormwater runoff go? Gee, I wonder.
#8 COMPLAINING ABOUT THE PROCESS TO THE TOWNSHIP – This is very common, no need to be alarmed if you have an overwhelming feeling to call the Township and let them know how frustrated you are and how incompetent you feel they are. Unfortunately, this only causes two things. One, it shows clearly your complete lack of understanding of what is required and the process of getting your project approved and two it will likely get someone upset and maybe even irritated at you. Neither of these will be beneficial to you.
#9 CONTACTING YOUR CONGRESSMAN – Not as common as #8, but this does happen. About 10% of people go nuclear during this process and pull out that handy guide you get at the polls with all of the phone numbers and email addresses of your state representatives and congressman. You will set out on a mission to “change the system”! You will be unsuccessful. I don’t like to use the phrase “ you can’t fight city hall” because that would be inaccurate. You can fight City Hall all you want, you just won’t win. You CANNOT win. Consider reading Sun Tzu….”The greatest victory is that which requires no battle”
#10 LISTEN – I once heard a saying that went “ no one is listening until you fart”. I remember laughing but I notice that people rarely are listening to what is being said to them. I joke in my office that no one listens to me when I ask a question or they tend to finish your question with an answer that is incorrect. “Oh, I am sorry….did the middle of my sentence interrupt the beginning of yours? “ The process of getting your project approved for construction can be an easy one or an extremely difficult one. Listening to what you are being told and THEN questioning will make the process much more enjoyable, relatively speaking, and you will come away with some valuable knowledge.
Laminated pocket copies of this are available at our office anytime.
Denny L. Howell, II PE