"(Thomas) was definitely negligent in the operation and maintenance of that treatment plant," Thomas Randis, water quality supervisor for the DEP northcentral region's water quality management program, said.
According to the DEP
order, not only did Thomas
not comply with agreements to fix or replace the treatment plant, he
also refused to purchase a shovel and torch for plant operator Robert Stein to use to patch a leak in the tank. Thomas
never profited from the system and had to use money from other businesses he
owned to continue maintaining it.He
denied the incident with Stein ever occurred.
"I put money into it the whole time," he
said when a business he
owned folded in 2004, he
no longer had enough money to maintain the system.An attempt to get a rate increase through the Public Utilities Commission
was foiled by an administrative foul-up, he
also tried to get the township to take the plant over, but they were unwilling to do it, he
alleged actions could cost sewer customers a bundle.
had no choice but to order the township to take over the plant.
"It gave us a lot of heartburn to have to do this, to go this route," Randis
said."We've taken a number of steps against the owner and the owner's companies.None of them have come to fruition."
"It's really been a rocky road.It has definitely been one of the most difficult cases we've worked on," Randis
said.Thomas denied any wrongdoing and described DEP as "a bunch of gestapo agents" who were trying to coerce him into doing things that he did not have the financial means to do.
"I don't know," he
said when asked why the agency took actions against him."Maybe it's just their attitude.That's just their business - to be nasty."DEP spokesman Dan Spadoni said the problems at the treatment plant were well-documented and the department worked with Thomas to get the problems taken care of.
"The evidence speaks for itself," Randis
said."I would say we treated him more than fairly."
Reese said that after DEP
issued the takeover order, Thomas
asked the township to pay him $70,000 for the system, but the township eventually agreed to pay him only $1.
"I told (Thomas) $1 was too much," Reese said.
A letter from DEP
to Peters Consulting Inc.
, the engineering company employed by Thomas
, warned that the concrete walls of the tanks were poorly constructed and that there were numerous hairline cracks in them.The letter was written in 1988, before the plant had even begun operation.The Lycoming County Planning Commission
also knew of the situation and told Thomas
in a letter that he
would have to seal the walls with hydraulic cement before pending land development plans could be approved.
If the walls give way, thousands of gallons of sewage could spill into Beaver Run, which is classified as a cold water fishery, Randis
said that depending on the creek's water level, the spill "would biologically wipe (the creek) out for some distance."
Customers would be unable to flush their toilets and the township would have to pay to bring in a bulk storage equipment to collect sewage and truck it off for treatment, Randis
said.Thomas agreed that the plant was poorly constructed, but blamed the Berwick-based contractor who built it.
Although up to this point Thomas
may have avoided serious punishment for his
involvement with the treatment plant, the state Attorney General's office said Wednesday that its Environmental Crimes Section is investigating him.
...Thomas confirmed that he had been interviewed recently by an investigator from the Attorney General's office.
The investigation is good news for Houseknecht, who has complained to several governmental agencies about Thomas
"I don't think he'll want to show his face around here," Susan Bitler's husband Ralph said of Thomas