Utilities Authority Exec Investigated for Improper Disposal of Septic Waste

Tom Johnson | September 20, 2019 | Energy & Environment
Office of State Comptroller finds Wrightstown official dumped 565,000 gallons of septage, calls for further investigation by Attorney General, state ethics and environmental agencies

Credit: OSC
Aqua Clean
The top executive of the Wrightstown Municipal Utilities Authority (WMUA) arranged a scheme to dump hundreds of thousands of gallons of waste from a private business he owned at the WMUA without paying, according to the Office of the State Comptroller.

The arrangement allowed Rodman Lucas, operations manager of the authority, to dump 565,000 gallons into a manhole at the WMUA for more than three years. By doing so, Lucas avoided over $21,000 in disposal fees, according to the office’s investigation. The deal was unknown to the authority’s board, except to its chairman and Wrightstown Mayor Thomas Harper.

The OSC, an independent state agency that conducts audits and investigations of government agencies, has referred the matter to the Attorney General’s office for further investigation as well as to state ethics and environmental agencies.

Neither Lucas nor the mayor returned calls for comment.

The investigation began after the comptroller’s office received an anonymous complaint alleging that Lucas’ private business, Aqua Clean Toilet Systems LLC, was improperly dumping septage — waste material, including solids, cleaned from septic tanks — at the WMUA.

Upon further investigation, the OCS revealed that Lucas and Harper arranged for Aqua Clean to deposit private septage for free at the authority without analyzing the environmental effects of the dumping, nor informing the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) or the WMUA board.

Environmental and financial harm

The office said when they interviewed Lucas, who initially exercised his right against self-incrimination under the Fifth Amendment, and Harper, they gave ever-evolving explanations for the agreement, at times downplaying its importance, while also arguing it caused no environmental or financial harm to the facility or township.

In addition, both argued the authority benefitted from the arrangement by borrowing tools and equipment from Aqua Clean in exchange for the dumping. The investigation found no evidence this commitment ever occurred.

Credit: OSC
State Comptroller logo
“The actions by the WMUA operations manager and board chairman uncovered by OSC investigators are alarming,’’ Comptroller Philip James Degnan said. “The residents of Wrightstown deserve to know that the WMUA is properly equipped to treat everything in its system and is being fairly paid for what it receives.’’

The arrangement between Lucas and Harper undermines confidence in government, according to Degnan.

The actions of Lucas and WMUA were also contrary to the industry’s best practices and DEP’s requirements, according to the office’s 28-page investigation. In addition, the improper dumping caused additional work for authority employees, forcing them to process the private septage in addition to the waste generated by the facility.