Something stinks in Elma, and Judy Augustyn can smell it from her bedroom window on West Jerge Drive.
It is the ghastly releases from her next-door neighbor’s improperly draining septic tank that is fouling the air and perhaps more, said Augustyn.
All summer long, Augustyn said, she has complained to both the Town of Elma building department and the Erie County Health Department. But she has, so far, received no relief.
“They all tell me: ‘This is terrible. It’s against the law. It’s an imminent health hazard.’ The word ‘imminent’ is always in there. Yet, here it sits,” she said, referring to her neighbor’s broken septic tank.
The neighbor, Jeffrey Karalus, told The Buffalo News that he has been in contact with the county health department and has put down a deposit with a sewer repair company to fix the problem.
“It’s all being taken care of. ... Everything is under control,” Karalus said Friday.
Augustyn said Karalus’ septic system failed about a year ago. In attempt to keep raw sewage from backing into his house, Augustyn said, her neighbor rigged a pump and an above-ground hose that attaches to the septic tank below and drains the overflow sewage from the broken tank onto the lawn in his backyard. That is just mere yards from her property line.
Augustyn said she first began noticing the smell more than a year ago, when a portion of the septic system was first dug up.
“It’s been five months since the tube was installed and draining toxic material,” she said.
When the wind is right or the day is hot enough, Augustyn said, there is no escaping the stench.
“I tried closing my windows, sometimes, when it comes through. If we put the air on, it sucks it in, because it’s right near our air conditioner,” she said.
Augustyn worries about the potential health threat from animals tracking the sewage onto her property. Her husband is recovering from lung surgery.
“So they have a minimum of five months’ worth of toxic septic sewage back there on his property, and as the deer go by and the rabbits go by, it’s being transferred all over here,” said Augustyn.
She started complaining a year ago, but her complaints intensified beginning July 16.
The county Health Department became aware of the situation July 17, according to Peter Anderson, press secretary for Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz.
“The health sanitarian was on the scene that day and observed what was going on with the improperly draining septic tank,” Anderson said.
“It’s up to the owner to arrange for the replacement of his own septic system,” Anderson added.
Several follow-up visits were made to the property by county health officials, and ultimately, the property owner agreed to hire a contractor to either repair or replace the failed septic system, according to Anderson.
“The Health Department also sent a letter to the homeowner, because he is in violation of New York State Sanitary Code ... and the homeowner was directed to meet with health department officials to discuss this matter,” he said.
The letter was dated Tuesday, he added.
A building department official from the Town of Elma also has paid visits.
The town’s assistant building inspector and zoning officer cited Karalus on Aug. 8 for unlawfully disposing of sewage waste. The citation directed Karalus to remove the above-ground tubing that is attached to his broken septic tank and warned of a re-inspection of the property the following day to make sure the above-ground pipe was removed. In the event that it wasn’t, Karalus was warned that he faced a fine of $250.
Zoning officer Raymond Balcerzak later said it would be imposed as a one-time violation fee.
Balcerzak said he, too, had been assured by Karalus that arrangements had been made to hire a septic system contractor to either repair or replace the failed system. In the meantime, he said, the Erie County Health Department has jurisdiction over toxic materials in the town.
“That may be more up to the town,” he said.
Karalus told The News on Friday that he has hired Meyer Septic to fix his tank. He’s already put down a $300 deposit, he said, and is waiting for a permit authorizing the work to be processed.
He estimated that the work will be done within a week or two.
Karalus, who works as a salesman, said he hasn’t been able to fix the tank because he has been in and out of the hospital since May with a vascular disease and blood clots.
“I was bedridden all that time,” he said.
Karalus accused his neighbors of exaggerating the problem.
“I haven’t even had a problem since the spring of 2012,” Karalus said. “I did, as a stopgap measure, put in a pump in case it ever overflowed, but it never has.”
When the neighbors saw the hose, Karalus added, they panicked.
Augustyn said she’s been told before that her neighbor is going to address the problem.
In the interim, she wants to know how Karalus can continue to be allowed to discharge raw sewage from his broken septic tank and what entity is responsible for making him stop.
The question, she said, has been posed to county health officials, Town of Elma Supervisor Dennis M. Powers, town building officials and even the state Department of Environmental Conservation, who referred her to the county.
“And they never answer the question,” Augustyn said. “They all say it’s illegal. If that’s the case, why aren’t you making him take that tube out and close up the hole?”