Officials Find Health Violations at ELS Campground
Officials performing an in-depth environmental investigation at Tuxbury Pond RV Resort last week found numerous health violations at the 70-acre facility, which is causing concern among Amesbury, Mass., officials for the safety of Lake Attitash and the town's water supply.
Specialists with the New Hampshore Department of Environmental Services, who went out to the site to investigate complaints of raw sewage from the campground's septic system escaping into the pond, found critters comfortably ensconced and chewing through the insulation of the campground's pump building and, more disturbingly, found sewage alarms meant to give warning of an impending overflow had been intentionally shut off at the site, according to the Daily News of Newburyport (Mass.).
As the campground owned by Equity LifeStyle Properties Inc. (ELS) lobbies the town of South Hampton, N.H., to increase the number of its campsites by 211 sites, news of the health violations has Amesbury Department of Public Works Director Rob Desmarais more worried than ever about the proposed expansion. He's afraid that based on a visual inspection his staff made of the campground earlier this month, raw sewage from the facility's septic system may be leaking into the pond and making its way down to Lake Attitash.
The campground is located near the border of the two states.
"DPW staff went on the site, and there was no sewage flowing the day we were there, but there was evidence that it had been happening," said Desmarais. "Then we found a couple of other issues there as well. So it was a little disturbing."
The other issues Desmarais is referring to involve trash and debris scattered around the campground's main well and evidence of leaking sewage.
"To the residents who use the well, it could contaminate their drinking water," said Desmarais, who noted additional problems were observed that indicated sewage escaping the septic system designed to filter the waste from five separate septic systems on site.
"It looked like there was some backup — that there had been some kind of breakout from the leaching field," said Desmarais. "Sewage into the pond increases bacteria counts and pressure on our water treatment plant to provide clean drinking water to the town of Amesbury and other communities."
According to New Hampshire State Civil Engineer Jim Gill, who assessed the safety of the campground's water supply during the inspection, the camp has been given 30 days to remedy a number of violations he found on site.
"They've basically got some housekeeping issues that they need to be looking at," said Gill, who listed the various problems he found when inspecting the camp's pump house.
There are holes in the foundation of the wall of the pump house," he said. "Animals are chewing on the insulation. They've got critters in the pump out."
The pump out is the area where storage tanks are kept and through which pump controls keep water circulating through the distribution system. While the animals aren't necessarily coming into contact with the water, he said, their presence could cause a number of problems with the operation of the pumps.
"They have to keep the pump house clean and tight so animals can't get in," said Gill. There's a connotation of cleanliness when you have a water system. This is not a clean pump house."
Gill took some water samples from the facility and found them to be clean, but mandated the campground fix the numerous issues before they have an effect on the water supply.
"Like critters normally do, they make themselves at home," said Gill. "They can gnaw on wires and short out the pump. It's just not a good situation and it potentially could get worse."
State Compliance Supervisor Dick deSeve found even more troubling health violations were present with regard to the camp's septic system.
"They've got a problem with at least one of their pump systems that's not pumping properly," said deSeve. "There also may be some issues with some of the alarms on some of the septic systems, which you don't want to happen obviously because the alarms are there for a reason."
The alarms are meant to give warning of a full sewage storage tank and are designed to ensure a full tank doesn't result in a backup or overflow. But in more than one case deSeve found the alarms had been intentionally turned off at the site.
"The reason is, the tank is full and needs to be pumped and that's when the alarm goes off," said deSeve. "If you turn the alarm off, you put them in a position where they overflow and that's not a good situation."
DeSeve said there was a possibility that overflow of the "blackwater" and solid waste had occurred at the site as a result of the alarm shut-offs, and of the five existing leach fields that service the campsites, there is evidence a faulty pump is compromising the filtration in one of the fields.
According to deSeve, the state is in the process of reviewing the findings on the campground's existing septic system and has demanded action be taken within 30 days to fix the faulty pump.
"We are in the process of reviewing and investigating, and once we figure out what needs to be done, we will be filling out a report and making a recommendation," said deSeve, who added he expected the state will return to the camp in 30 days to ensure compliance with the order.
"We'll go out within a month or so," he said. "We don't want to let these things linger."
The problems with the pump house must be fixed within 90 days, said Gill.
"Normally we'll either go back and inspect or expect a letter from them stating all the problems have been corrected," said Gill. "Under the circumstances we'll probably go out and field verify it, and not just accept a letter."