August 7, 2008

Amish Residents’ Sewage Violations Frustrate Officials

By Kathy Kellogg

Cattaraugus County health officials are cracking down on Amish residents who violate sewage regulations.

Currently, the Health Department issues permits for privies, or outhouses, as an alternative to septic systems. However, a separate "gray water handling system" is required to meet state sanitary code.

Two East Otto Amish families who obtained privy permits but later refused to install a specially designed wooden gray-water containment box face stiff fines and now must install full septic systems because they resisted compliance with the code.

Public Health Director Barb Hastings said another case involving an Amish family in Conewango is inching toward a September resolution. An administrative officer has scheduled a hearing for Aug. 12.

"We thought they were cooperating," said Hastings, noting that as early as 2006, her department participated in meetings with elected state officials and Amish community leaders attempting to settle compliance problems over building permits. The effort also targeted Amish schools, where health officials hoped to inspect water supplies. However, the talks ground to a halt because the community's bishops did not agree, county officials said.

The Board of Health, meeting Wednesday in Salamanca, approved an administrative hearing officer's recommendations against the two East Otto families, each being fined $200 and $10 per day until new permit applications are filed and another $10 per day until the new septic systems are installed.

Atlee Miller, of Mill Valley Road, East Otto, met with Environmental Health Director Eric Wohlers last September about building permit requirements for a new home.

In October, Wohlers met with Noah Stutzman, who was renovating a home on Snake Run Road in East Otto.

While both men obtained privy permits, they refused to sign papers swearing there would be no gray-water discharge and later moved into their homes without certificates of occupancy, county officials said.

They also had worked out a design plan with the county for the wooden gray-water boxes they hoped to build and install but couldn't sell the compromise to their bishop and refused to go ahead with the compromise, officials said.

The setback frustrated East Otto Town Board members and County Legislator E. James Ellis, R-Cattaraugus, who had tried to help the residents reach regulatory compliance.

"They will not do this because of their religion. They will go to jail for 100 years, so be it," said Ellis, who was visited Wednesday by two Amish men and two other residents who complained that the Health Department isn't providing enough help to resolve the matter.

"It's their bishop [who refuses to let the members of the community comply with the sanitary code as they wish to do]," Ellis added.

"We've attended meetings and offered them the option to construct the wooden technology, and a leach line for gray water is simple," Wohlers said. "The decision has to come from the bishop, and they won't even tell us who it is."

"Bishop or otherwise, they're not above the law," said Board of Health member Joseph Eade.

Originally published by CATTARAUGUS CORRESPONDENT.

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