Officials in Cambria County, Pennsylvania, are obsessing about the inadequacies of outhouses at two new farmhouses built for Schwartzentruber Amish families. According to news reports last Thursday, County Judge Norman Krumenacker hopes to work out a compromise with the Amish families that are violating the county sewer codes and the officials charged with enforcing the regulations.
Last month, Andy Schwartzentruber stood before the same judge for refusing to increase the size of the tanks he had installed below the privies at a schoolhouse on his land. He maintained that they would violate his religious beliefs. The Amish defendants last week, Joely and Mary Swartzentruver, owners of one of the homes, and John and Susan Miller, owners of the other, testified before the judge that they had installed 250 gallon tanks beneath their privies, instead of the larger, 1,000 gallon, prefabricated tanks required for home use by Pennsylvania state regulations.
Their method of disposing the waste that accumulates in the tanks—mixing it with lime and spreading it on their fields—is also not acceptable to the county. The judge says he wants to respect the religious sentiments of the families, which they argue is their reason for not following regulations, but he feels that properly abiding by state laws regarding sewage disposal is not a religious issue. “The last thing I want to do is hold a contempt hearing and put (the couples) into jail for Christmas. That would violate my religious principles. But I have a job to do, and I will do it,” he said.
Attorney William Barbin, who attended the hearing as solicitor for the county sewage enforcement agency and the county building codes agency, said that the issue could be precedent setting, for there are dozens of additional Amish homes in the county that also lack proper sewage disposal systems. It wasn’t clear from his comments if the county intended to prosecute more Amish families and attempt to force them to install sewage systems that it would approve.
Mr. Barbin did say, optimistically, that if a compromise could be reached with the two affected families, it might apply to the earlier case involving the outhouses on the school grounds, as well as potentially to others in the county. He indicated that Andy Schwartzentruber had not complied with the judge’s order of October 2 nor had he paid the fine the judge imposed, so it was up to the county district attorney to decide whether to file a petition which would find him in contempt of court.
Meanwhile, last Thursday, Judge Krumenacker indicated that he wanted to visit one of the Amish houses in question on Wednesday afternoon, November 19. Accompanied by church elders, attorneys, and representatives of the county agencies, he planned to inspect the outhouse of the new home.