LAWRENCEVILLE, Pa. (WETM) – Lawrenceville, Pa. has received violations from the county, state, and federal levels of government concerning its water facility. Now, a Pennsylvania court has been asked to issue an order of compliance to the Borough to correct the mistakes.
Much of the small community of just over 600 blames the mess on negligence by Borough Council President Gordon “Gordy” Chilson. Now residents of the town, who have to suffer the consequences of his inaction, are calling for him to leave.
Recent council meetings have led to several calls for Chilson’s resignation. At the June 6 meeting, Anna Hotellinz, who lives in the Borough, told Chilson, “I am going to respectfully ask you to leave the council because you are not good for our town.”
“That’s not on the agenda,” Chilson responded, using a line he repeated several times during the June 6 meeting that lasted over three hours.
At a special council meeting on May 27th, the room broke out into applause when Lawrenceville resident Lucy Losey said, “The best thing for this town would be for you to resign.”
“That’s your opinion,” Chilson said before the meeting dissolved into disarray minutes later.
The violations are nothing new, and the community is left wondering why Chilson hasn’t acted to address them.
“It just appears to me that it’s not in his best interest to serve the people,” said Suzette Urbano, who moved to Lawrenceville with her husband and daughter a little over a year ago.
What violations is Lawrenceville facing?
On May 31, 2022, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) filed a Petition to Enforce in the Tioga County Court of Common Pleas. The DEP asked the court to enforce the DEP’s orders by issuing a court order after Lawrenceville failed to submit the same documents multiple times over three years regarding the operations of its water facility, saying the Borough “continues to violate” the Pennsylvania Safe Water Drinking Act.
The petition to enforce stems from inaction in regard to the following violations:
On May 20, 2022, DEP notified the Borough that it had failed to submit plans for operations, maintenance, and emergency response for its water systems by their respective deadlines. The Borough also has outstanding violations from 2019 when it had previously failed to submit sufficient versions of these same documents to the state, despite multiple reminders from the state.
In the same May 20 letter, the DEP notified the Borough of its “Chronic failure to mark underground infrastructure.” The violation said that Lawrenceville falsely claimed it had marked water and wastewater lines in August 2021. The lines were then damaged when the state arrived to do work, resulting in a system-wide pressure loss, water shutoff, and boil water advisory. The DEP petition says the people who shut off the water were not authorized to do so.
The DEP labeled all these violations and failures to respond to the Notices of Violations as “significant deficiencies”. The Department also said Lawrenceville Borough never disputed or appealed the DEP’s orders.
On June 8, 2022, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) confirmed it is now involved in inspecting the Borough’s wastewater system after several violations from the state. The EPA’s inspector found improper operation and maintenance at the wastewater plant and is gathering more information for other possible violations.
On May 26, 2022, soon after the previous operator resigned, DEP issued a deadline of June 9 to hire a licensed water and sewer treatment plant operator. The Borough had reportedly still not hired a new operator as of June 10. DEP said the Borough was in the process of interviewing candidates.
On April 27, 2022, Tioga County Emergency Services said that Lawrenceville failed to report its inventory of hazardous chemicals at the Water and Sewer Treatment Plant. As a result, the Borough could face fines of between $1,000-$10,000 per day, per chemical, per facility. Emergency Services said as of June 13, the Borough is working to report the inventory of chemicals.
The Pa. Department of Labor and Industry has yet to confirm whether Lawrenceville has paid any fines regarding the chemical inventory.
As of June 8, the DEP has issued a civil penalty of $3,500 to Lawrenceville to date in 2022 for drinking water violations, which the Borough has reportedly paid in full with taxpayer’s money.
Councilmember Cynthia Burrows addressed the numerous violations at the June 6 meeting, “We need it on the agenda, Gordy. We’re getting fined for this Gordy!”
Chilson quickly denied this: “You’re not getting fined for anything!”
The community is left to deal with the consequences
The violations and subsequent inaction by Borough council president Gordon Chilson have led to a string of resignations from Lawrenceville officials, as well as rising tensions between leadership and residents.
Eddie Wetzel, a former Borough councilman who resigned in May, said that because of Chilson, the town is being held back. With these unresolved violations, people from out of town cannot move in because the DEP will not grant any new Equivalent Dwelling Units (EDUs) which every property needs to measure water and sewer service.
“We can’t get ahead… If they would just put money into the water and treatment plant…Then we will be able to open up the Borough, get the EDUs we need, get people in here, and get business,” said Wetzel.
His own daughter has been paying a mortgage on a house for three months and cannot move in because she’s been unable to get water hooked into the house.
“We need a leader that when the people pay for water and sewer, some part of that money goes back into replenishing, repairing it. I’ve walked the treatment plan and I’ve seen issues that you can just see with a blind eye,” said Wetzel.
Wetzel also alleged that several residents often have brown water coming from their faucets, due to a lack of maintenance of the treatment plant.
Albert Anderson, the owner of Guaranteed Tire and Auto, said, “It just doesn’t make any sense to me why it has to be like this… Especially as a business owner, I want to see more businesses bring more people to town instead of watching the beautiful little town just fall apart.”
Lawrenceville residents are getting more frustrated with Borough leadership and the council president as the uncertainty over the water drags on.
18 News reached out to Mr. Chilson multiple times to set up an interview. After confirming a date and time in Lawrenceville, Mr. Chilson canceled, on the day of, saying that he was out of town.
18 News will continue to follow any updates coming out of the Borough, as more details become available.