BOH weighs fees versus fines

by Karina Coombs

During their May 28 meeting, the Board of Health (BOH) grappled with whether or not to levy fines against two properties. In one case the board decided against a fine, while in the second case, the board opted to charge an additional fee.

The recently revised Supplementary Regulations for Sewage Disposal Systems gives the board the ability to issue a $300 fine for any violation of state Title V regulations or local regulations. (See “BOH approves new sewage disposal regulations,” page 5.) In addition, Town Meeting in 2008 approved a bylaw revision that gave the board the ability to issue non-criminal disposition tickets to help enforce their regulations. Finally Massachusetts General Law Chapter 111 gives additional enforcement powers to local health officials.

108 Hemlock Hill Road

After meeting with the board in November 2012 to request permission to finish their basement, the homeowners of 108 Hemlock Hill Road were instructed to file a garbage grinder deed restriction as a condition of approval. However, the owners received a building permit from the Building Department without the filing and failed to respond to a number of letters from Health Agent Linda Fantasia.

The deed restriction was filed on May 14 and noted at that evening’s BOH meeting. The board then discussed the possibility of issuing a fine because of the inaction of the homeowners and the follow-up work involved. Fantasia invited them to the May 28 meeting to discuss a possible fine.

Ultimately, the board decided against issuing a fine, based on the property finally being in compliance and the fact that a letter had been received from the homeowners explaining the oversight. While two board members thought a fine was in order because of the extra time spent tracking the property by Fantasia and Administrative Assistant Bobby Lyman, Chair Jeffrey Brem said that their salaries already covered the time.

Brem said he felt the homeowners just made a mistake with a paperwork issue. Vice Chair Bill Risso said that he was against issuing a fine because, “these are our neighbors,” and emphasized that the infraction was different than that of a professional installer making an error in the field.

In relation to the Building Department issuing a permit without being aware of the condition of approval, Risso said he had met with Building Commissioner John Luther and discussed creating a “trigger” to make sure a permit cannot be issued or closed if there are outstanding issues with the BOH. Luther explained that his office had software for tracking permits and he will explore installing it on Fantasia’s system. Brem will follow up with Luther on this.

389 River Road

The board also decided not to issue a fine against the owners of 389 River Road. A missing Certificate of Compliance (COC) from a guesthouse renovation was discussed in the presence of Chris Hart who worked on the project. With the expansion of the property’s septic system in November 2011, a COC application was required within 30 days of system completion.

During the board’s May 14 meeting, Brem had noted that the septic system had been in violation of Title 5 of the State Sanitation Code since that time because of the missing COC; the group had discussed outstanding engineering fees and the possibility of fines.

However, Brem explained that he had since learned the property owner had forgotten about the COC and when Hart learned about the issue he immediately came into Town Hall to take care of it himself, volunteering to bring it to the engineer and installer for signatures.

BOH member Cathy Galligan said she thought it was “reasonable” for the board to try to recoup money for engineering consultant Rob Frado’s time. Galligan also noted that for every hour of Frado’s time there was time also spent by Lyman that would need to be covered. While Brem agreed that costs should be covered, he cautioned the group to be prepared for possible fallout for pursuing fines, which have not been issued for a number of years.