WEARE — It wasn’t long after Jenny and Nathan Chartier moved into their new bakery that they started having trouble with their septic system, but it’s taken years to resolve the issue, and now they have just days to make things right or the state could shut them down.
According to Jenny Chartier, in 2006 she and her husband built a new facility to house Abigail’s Bakery, the family business located at 352 South Sugar Hill Road in Weare.
“We brought in local companies and contractors we thought we could trust to be reliable and do the job right,” she said. “But we were wrong.”
They hired a neighbor, Robert Searles Jr., to install their new septic system, which was inspected by the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services (DES) and approved for operation in October 2006. But by 2008, the septic system started to fail and backed up into the bathroom in the bakery, Chartier said.
“We had the septic tank pumped out, but we continued to have trouble, so I called the state and asked them to come out and take a look,” Chartier said.
DES inspected the system and determined that it had been designed wrong and installed incorrectly, Chartier said. Dennis Fogg of Presby Environmental, which manufactured the system, came out and said it had clearly been installed incorrectly, according to DES documents.
Chartier turned to Searles, who installed the system.
“Everybody makes mistakes, and we weren’t angry with him,” she said. “We wanted to work with him to try and fix the problem.”
But Searles, who did not return calls from the Union Leader, refused to work with the Chartiers, she said. So she hired a lawyer and took Searles to court, but after waiting several years, she lost her case. She doesn’t understand why.
“It seems so black and white. Someone installed my septic system, it was installed improperly, so they should have to fix it,” Chartier said. “But instead it seems like nobody cares. I’ve gone to the Better Business Bureau, the Attorney General’s Office, the courts, and I can’t get anyone to care. It’s heartbreaking.”
Chartier’s attorney, Peter Prevett of Amherst, refused to comment on the case.
Just days after losing the lawsuit, Chartier said she received an administrative order from DES demanding she immediately begin paying for the septic tank to be pumped frequently enough to keep wastewater from rising to the surface of the property. DES has also given her 15 days from Aug. 6 to hire a septic designer to plan a new system for the property, and 30 days to have a new system installed, she said.
If the Chartiers don’t comply with the order, DES can issue a cease-and-desist order and have the business shut down, but that’s not what the agency wants to see happen, said Timothy Drew, administrator of public information and permitting for DES.
“Everybody’s common goal is to get a new system installed,” he said.
But Chartier said that coming up with the money for a new system isn’t easy for a small, family-owned bakery that makes most of its money at farmers markets and health-food stores.
“I don’t have money to appeal the court case, and I can’t afford to close the bakery,” Chartier said. “This is how I support my family. So basically, I have 15 days to come up with $20,000.”
For his role in the issue, Searles is facing a proposed $2,000 fine and the loss of his license to install septic systems issued through DES.
Searles was served with the administrative notice from DES in August 2009, which stated that Searles had allegedly been hired to do the job but had his father, Robert Searles Sr., install the system under his license, without inspecting the work.
According to the document, the sand and other coverings installed over the system were the wrong kind and a pipe between the tank and another part of the system was installed incorrectly, but Searles refused to fix the problem.
Drew said the action on the proposed fine and license revocation had been put on hold while the Chartiers’ suit went through court, but has since been reactivated.
A pre-hearing conference for all the parties involved including the Chartiers and Searles will be held on Sept. 10.
The next step after that will be a public hearing, Drew said.
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Nancy Bean Foster may be reached at email@example.com.