Many of Massachusetts’ campgrounds have been forced to set aside expansion plans and others are in danger of closing as they try to comply with state health regulations, according to The Patriot Ledger, Quincy, Mass.
Owners say state-imposed guidelines on the size of septic systems have placed unrealistic burdens on the state’s 76 privately-owned campgrounds. To address those concerns, state Rep. James Murphy of Weymouth is sponsoring legislation that would direct state agencies to rethink their campground regulations.
Campground owners are challenging the state Department of Environmental Protection’s calculation that each campsite generates 90 gallons of wastewater a day. Industry surveys indicate the actual figure is closer to 32 gallons, said Jim Saunders, co-owner of Pinewood Lodge in Plymouth.
“The criteria they’ve used to designate how much flow is just off the charts,” Saunders said.
Murphy’s bill requires the Department of Environmental Protection and the state Department of Conservation and Recreation to meet with the Massachusetts Association of Campground Owners (MACO) and review regulations that affect campgrounds.
Murphy said the bill is designed to prevent the loss of campground land which has been threatened by development in recent years.
“A lot of campgrounds have been sold off to developers,” said Murphy, who filed the bill on behalf of constituents who are campers. “They found it difficult to survive with the difficult regulations that are in place.”
MACO, which has spearheaded the challenge of the regulations, has hired Hanover engineering company Merrill Associates Inc. to draw up an independent analysis of wastewater volume at campgrounds.
“It’s an attempt to get a realistic code,” Saunders said. “We don’t know where the original numbers came from. They just don’t make sense.”
Most recreational vehicles are equipped with 35-gallon holding tanks, which provide four to five days of use before emptying, Saunders said.
The regulations also don’t take into account that campgrounds only generate waste for approximately half the year, said Marcia Galvin, MACO president.
Galvin, whose family owns Normandy Farms in Foxboro, said the regulations have stunted the growth of the 400-site campground.
“We have 100 acres of land, so we have the potential to be larger,” Galvin said. “We’re unable to expand so we’re at a standstill. Most parks are.”
When Title V, the state’s septic code, was overhauled in 1995, it set a new limit of one 10,000-gallon septic system per property. The limit has imposed a hardship on campgrounds, said Barbara Holton, whose family has owned the Tispaquin Family Park campground in Middleboro for 26 years.
The town has denied a license for the campground for the past nine years, but it has continued to operate as the owners challenge the selectmen’s decision in Plymouth Superior Court.
Holton has town approval for 57 campsites but the property has room for 60 more. But that would require installation of a sewage treatment facility that Holton estimates would cost at least $100,000.
Holton argues that her campground should not be subject to the new Title V regulations because it was operating before they took effect in 1995. Her attorney, John Gushue of New Bedford, said the campground has never failed a Title V inspection.
“The argument is that systems that were in the ground before that date and which are not in failure are OK,” Gushue said.
Holton has reapplied to the town for a campground license for the summer season, but said she may close the campground permanently at year’s end.
“I told the board my decision would be to close at the end of the year if I had to deal with these issues much longer,” she said.