Athol upholds sewer bill abatement denial; former business owner threatens court action

  • From left, Athol Select Board Chair Rebecca Bialecki, board member Lee Chauvette, Vice Chair Holly Young and Town Manager Shaun Suhoski discuss a sewer bill abatement of close to $9,700 sought by Robert Hamilton (right). The board voted to uphold Suhoski’s original decision to deny Hamilton’s request for the abatement. Greg Vine

For the Athol Daily News
Published: 6/10/2019 8:00:20 AM

ATHOL – “I'll see you in court,” declared Robert Hamilton, who then stormed out of the meeting room, adding an exclamation point by slamming the door as he exited last Tuesday's meeting of the Athol Select Board.

Hamilton was miffed because the board voted unanimously to uphold Town Manager Shaun Suhoski's denial of Hamilton's request for an abatement on past-due sewer bills covering a dozen years; 2006 to 2018. Records indicate the former owner of now-closed Victory Lane Motors at 22 Chestnut Hill Avenue owes the town close to $9,700 in delinquent bills.

“We were looking for some additional information,” said board Chair Rebecca Bialecki, “and, so, that's the something that we do not have. One (issue) is are there any records of having the septic system pumped. My understanding is there are no records of that.”

Bialecki added that town records indicate Victory Motors had tied into the municipal sewer system. The overall question boiled down to which method of sewage disposal was Hamilton using, a septic system or the town-owned sewer system?

“Although the building is vacant at the moment,” said Bialecki, “the future of that septic – we want to make sure that that's going into the town system and not someplace else that we might not know about.”

She added that the new owners of the property have committed to working with town health officials to ensure the building is in fact tied into municipal sewerage and that disposal system is working properly.

Bialecki also informed her fellow board members that Hamilton had offered a compromise, saying he was willing to pay $4,838.52, half the total of $9,677.04 the town says he is in arrears.

Hamilton disputed Bialecki's contention that the building is connected to the town sewer system.

“The current owners did allow DPW to go in and take a look at things,” said Suhoski, “and they also looked at the sewer manholes. What everyone says is correct. The pump is connected to the town sewer system...”

“But the waste isn't going into it,” interrupted Hamilton. Suhoski concurred.

The town manager explained that a tour of the property with the owners and public works staff found the building is indeed tied into town sewer. But, Suhoski explained further, there is another line that is carrying waste to a location other than the municipal system.

“It appears the sewer is connected to something else,” said Suhoski, speaking directly to Hamilton, “we don't know what. We don't have a Title V on file. You were not able to produce septic records.

“The majority of the water being used at that site,” said Hamilton, “was used for washing cars and wouldn't have gone into either system.”

Board member William Chiasson said, “I'm still extremely concerned that the system that's being used is an illegal system, whether there was a lot of waste going into it or not. It certainly is illegal, and I would like to hear an answer somewhere long the line (about) where in fact it is going. Is it going into the municipal system, or is it going right out into the river?”

Hamilton said the septic system is 500 feet from the river, responding that snow deposited by the town's Public Works Dept. on a nearby vacant lot during winter months is responsible for more pollution than his septic system.

Hamilton responded in the affirmative when asked by board Vice Chair Holly Young if he knew the building was not tied into the town sewer system.

“Where did you think it was going?” she asked.

“Into the old system that was there, that's always been there,” Hamilton said.

Asked by Young why, if waste went to a septic system instead of the town's sewer network, there are no records of the system ever having been pumped out, Hamilton responded matter-of-factly: “It never needed it.”

“I thought you said the last time we met,” said board member Stephen Raymond, “that you it had it pumped about three times.”

“My son,” said Hamilton, “he thinks he had it pumped a few years back but he doesn't have a record of it. So, I don't know whether it was pumped or not.”

Athol Health Agent Deborah Vondal confirmed the town has no record of a septic system existing at the site.

“We have no plans,” she said. “There's never been a Title V. There were also two apartments there, so it wasn't just water from the business washing cars.”

The board then voted on Hamilton's appeal, turning it aside on a unanimous vote.

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