FARMINGTON — Some San Juan County septic tank service businesses are operating without New Mexico Environment Department certification, and those businesses are not facing any obstacles when they dump their loads at Farmington's waste water treatment plant.
The city is close, officials say, to creating a new policy at the treatment plant that will help regulate the local septic service industry.
Of the 15 septic service businesses in the San Juan County phone book, only six were "qualified" septic pumpers, according to New Mexico Environment Department records.
An unqualified septic service business caused controversy recently, and its owner was arrested. Anthony Wiggins, the 54-year-old owner of A-1 Septic Service, was charged with depredation of government property for allegedly dumping septic tank waste on Bureau of Land Management land near Bloomfield.
A person who answered the phone at A-1 Septic Service on Friday indicated that the business was still operating, but Wiggins could not be reached for comment.
To be a qualified septic service business, all of the business' drivers have to pay about $150 and take an online course on septic tank safety and service procedures, said Annette Davis, the co-owner of Davis Plumbing and Mechanical Inc., one of the qualified businesses.
The qualification process is a one-time test that doesn't have to be repeated unless the businesses is suspended, said Jim Vincent, the environment department's liquid waste manager.
Davis said her business welcomed the state-mandated training, which began in 2011.
"Septic tanks can be dangerous ... there are pathogens," she said. "Any training is good for everyone."
She also said the certification requirement sets standards that all businesses should meet.
"I think (the certification process) is wonderful, but somebody's got to back it," said Donald Moats Sr., the owner of D.J's Backhoe Service, another certified septic service business.
The other certified septic service businesses in the phone book are Allen Septic Tank Service, Diaz Septic Service, Serano's Septic Service and RA Beal Plumbing and Heating, according to environment department records.
Davis said the certification order is not being enforced as it was originally described. Her business was told they would need to prove they were certified in order to take septic tank waste to the Wastewater Treatment Facility in Farmington. That has not been the case, she said.
Ruben Salcido, Farmington's wastewater utilities coordinator, said the city is not currently checking to make sure septic pumpers are certified before they dump at the facility.
But that rule is expected to change soon, possibly within a month, he said.
Septic service companies will soon receive a letter from the city informing them they have to be certified before they dump liquid waste at the treatment plant, Salcido said.
"I want it to be effective immediately so they have to get certified," Salcido said. "This would enable us to put everyone on a level playing field."
Ougie Thompson, the owner of Animas Waste and Water, is one of the septic tank service businesses in San Juan County without a certificate from the environment department. He intends to go through the process eventually.
Thompson said he's worried the one-time only certification process being used by the environment department could expand into annual classes for septic pumpers that cost hundreds of dollars.
"There should be some standards, but to come in and start sticking your nose in my business, no thank you," he said.
Thompson said he started servicing septic tanks when he was 10 years old for his father, who owned a septic service business.
"I know more about the septic tanks than the people giving the test," he said.
Thompson also said making all of a business' service employees take training can lead to unfair competition, as the employees will soon be able to start rival businesses.
"I ain't sending people to that class," he said.
Ryan Boetel covers crime and San Juan County for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4644.