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Amish refuse health regulations

A group of Amish families say they are determined to follow the oral instructions handed down by their ancestors in refusing to go along with the Cattaraugus County Health Department's sanitary regulations.

They are calling the department's tactics intrusive and discriminatory against the Old Order Community living in the Conewango Valley.

A letter signed by Lewis Slabaugh and Uria Rabes of Conewango Valley was a response to the county Board of Health's request in September for documentation of the Amish community's church regulations.

While some families have applied for privy permits and worked with the Health Department to find a method of managing household grey water, they have been instructed by their community's leaders not to use underground wooden traps made of wood that are specially designed for the Amish. Members of the community also claim the grey-water traps are inefficient.

The letter went on to quote from the New Testament and stated the regulations are "completely unnecessary" in rural areas, adding that the Amish families have no sanitation problems but do have problems with the Health Department.

In August, the Cattaraugus County Board of Health imposed $100 fines on Atlee D. Miller and Noah Stutzman of East Otto, who then filed formal appeals to reverse the rulings based on their religious beliefs. An appeal also was filed in a third case against Andrew Miller of Conewango, who was fined $100 for the documented discharge of raw sewage on several occasions and for failing to obtain a permit and build a septic system.

The board voted Wednesday to deny all three appeals and in the first two cases to extend a compliance date to Oct. 26 for installation of the grey-water traps, imposing additional fees of $75 apiece. The grey-water traps would then have to be installed within two or three weeks of that deadline.

Also denied was the appeal of Andrew Miller, who was ordered to obtain a permit within five days, and to test the soils for the sanitary septic system, installing it within 30 days of receiving a permit.

Environmental Health Director Eric Wohlers told the board that he traveled to Union City, Pa., to meet with a bishop who represents the East Otto families, and was told that other bishops would have to be consulted. Wohlers said he was accompanied by sanitarian Ray Jordan, Health Director Barb Hastings, County Legislature Chairman Crystal Abers, R-South Dayton, and Legislator James Ellis, R-Cattaraugus.

He told the board that he would continue to try to work with the Amish community and has obtained the names of three bishops to contact for further negotiations. But he said the problem is growing because the population has almost doubled with more families moving into the area and purchasing land in Yorkshire, East Otto and Dayton.

Wohlers added that some families have told him they don't mind installing the systems but fear being shunned by the community.

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