Georgia on Our Minds

Two state associations concentrate on growing membership and improving the regulatory climate for installers and pumpers.

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Although the onsite industry in Georgia has lost half its certified installers over the past five years, the Georgia Onsite Wastewater Association remains strong and involved in addressing industry concerns with the state. According to President John Ford, membership averages 400 to 450 people with 40 sponsors, but to remain strong requires an involved base.

“The association’s primary focus is how to maintain existing members and stimulate membership,” says Ford. “Everyone who has survived thus far understands that the market isn’t going to return to what it was five or 10 years ago. The economy is not bouncing back in Georgia. Until everyone has a good feel for what the pace of that new market will eventually be, they are very tight with finances. Our challenge is how to present a strong enough case for membership that contractors will pay dues.”

Value for dollars

Enhancing the benefits of the association’s annual conference was one goal. “Everyone in the state is feeling the same monetary crunch that we are,” he says. “They understand, as we do, the importance of working together.”

Ford approached different state health district managers about piggybacking their Georgia Environmental Health Association conference with GOWA’s conference. “GEHA’s membership is falling off, and the organization is looking for ways to attract more officials to their conference,” says Ford, a GEHA board member. “GOWA would love to have environmental health officials at the conference and joining the association.”

GEHA’s conference is June 6-7 at the Oceanside Hotel, and GOWA’s is June 7-8 at nearby Villas by the Sea Resort and Conference Center on Jekyll Island. In the future, the groups hope to share a conference venue. “The best press we could have is if GEHA officials returned to their counties and told installers that the conference was worthwhile and they ought to go,” says Ford.

Georgia code requires eight hours of continuing education every two years, and the GOWA conference committee works with the state to provide it. “Our membership numbers get a bump every recertification year, which is 2013,” says Ford. “Earning CEUs is a big draw.”

Communication goals

Within the last seven years, GOWA representatives and Chris G. Kumnick, program director, land use, Environmental Health Branch, Georgia Department of Public Health, have worked closely to create a regulatory climate favorable to installers and pumpers. “Dialogue has enabled Chris to better understand our needs and us to better understand his position,” says Ford. “Instead of the state thrusting regulations on the industry as in the past, working with Chris has helped us to identify the protocol, the direction from which it is coming, and why it is coming from that direction.

“When we can explain the reasoning behind legislation to members, we prevent what may be a minor bump in the road from being spun into a major ordeal with serious conflict. With more information, we make better decisions and communicate more succinctly with all parties.”

Ford has no reservations about asking Kumnick what he thinks about an issue. “He gives an honest answer about how the department will react to certain events if they happened,” he says. “Then he’ll propose looking at the situation from another direction, enabling him to possibly do something differently.”

Legislative curve ball

Like many states, Georgia faces rising tipping fees and diminishing disposal options (15 approved application sites serve 159 counties). In 2011 and without GOWA participation, the state Environmental Protection Division (EPD) passed new Guidelines for Land Application, effective July 2012. The expensive and restrictive regulations prompted 898 of 1,682 licensed pumpers to surrender their permits by March 2012.

Past-president Dart Kendall, GOWA lobbyist Bruce Widener, and assistant EPD director Jim Ussery worked to draft an amendment that delayed implementing the rules until July 2014. It passed, giving stakeholders time to rewrite the legislation. Some proposed changes are reducing monitoring and reporting, lowering disposal fees, and establishing stable disposal sites. “Most companies don’t market routine maintenance because they don’t know what to charge for pump-outs or if they will have somewhere to take the septage next week,” says Kendall.

“We also proposed a bill that would allow pumpers to dewater septage, then dispose of the liquid in a dedicated onsite system on their property,” says Kendall.  “The Department of Community Health successfully opposed it, arguing that they needed to hire staff with the expertise to regulate dewatering.”

The association has proposed sending itemized invoices listing service call, fuel, tipping fee, and at which plant to help customers understand how companies determine a fair price. Kendall also includes the county commissioner’s phone number. Another suggestion was letting the private sector operate land-applied sites.

The crisis has increased the temptation to dispose of septage illegally. With pump-outs averaging $350, GOWA members report finding pumps in septic tanks with hoses running to the woods or creeks.



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