One of Mountain Watershed’s Association’s neighbors, Mountain Pines Campground, has recently become the center of attention in our local community. During a meeting hosted by MWA and local residents, nearly 100 people gathered both virtually and in the Saltlick Township Building on March 15th to discuss their concerns about the proposed expansion of the facility.
Mountain Pines–owned by a New York based company–is located in Champion, PA along Route 711, borders a stretch of Indian Creek, and is encircled by residential properties. Last month, March 2022, Mountain Pines applied to the Fayette County Zoning Hearing Board for a Special Exception in order to expand their operation. Their proposed expansion would extend off of their preexisting campground into the abandoned 25-acre Clifford N. Pritts Elementary School property. This would increase their operation by 30-40%. They detailed that they intend to add additional amenities and 125 campsites to their already existing 840 sites. However, many residents are opposed to this for several reasons.
The expansion area is currently classified as an “A-1 agricultural and rural zone”. With this current zoning, campgrounds can be constructed through a Special Exception, as long as the applicant demonstrates that their facility meets the definition of a campground established by Fayette County. However, it is unclear whether or not Mountain Pines’ expansion meets the requirements for a campground as defined by the County. Further, Mountain Pines has had a history of violations at their existing facility, and residents are concerned that expanding the campground would add to existing problems.
For more than a decade, Mountain Pines has received a number of violations issued by the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). These violations all pertain to their wastewater output. Mountain Pines discharges its wastewater and sewage effluent into Indian Creek, which they are supposed to properly treat on site before discharging it into the creek. However, their history of violations shows that they have notoriously been inconsistent with this responsibility. Documentation reveals that they have discharged unsafe levels of fecal coliform, CBOD (carbonaceous biochemical oxygen demand), total suspended solids, and untreated sewage year after year into our waterways.
The Mountain Watershed Association began closely monitoring Mountain Pines’ discharge following a fishkill that occurred downstream of the camp in 2017. Since then, we have sampled their output on a biweekly-weekly schedule during their busy season and report any findings to the DEP. Using our in-office lab, we processed water samples directly upstream and downstream of the campground’s outflow pipe. Multiple times, we found that the campground consistently discharged a hazardous level of fecal coliform. They continued to do this despite our data. Eventually, it was found that their treatment system was insufficiently performing. The DEP issued a formal order that forced Mountain Pines to update their sewage system. Although it appears to be operational at their current capacity, this updated sewage system was not installed with an expansion in mind—during conversations with the DEP, Mountain Pines repeatedly said they had no plans to expand.
Unfortunately, this sewage output is not the only issue associated with the campground. It is unclear whether Mountain Pines meets the definition of a campground as described in the Fayette County Ordinances. Driving by, it is easy to see that the campground is packed full of permanent structures with decks/patios, roofs, crawlspaces, etc. These sites function as seasonal, permanent homes which can be sold to other buyers. Along with this, owners do not have to pay property taxes on their structures. The county ordinance specifies that these structures need to be “temporary” and “retain an open air or natural character” which does not seem to be the current status of Mountain Pines.
Additionally, according to the county, “All activities within the campground shall be located at least 100 feet from any property line adjoining a residence and at least 50 feet from any other property line or public right of way,” and “Side and rear bufferyards shall be a minimum of 25 feet in width and shall be planted with a combination of deciduous and evergreen trees, shrubs, ornamental grasses, and groundcovers.” There are many locations where insufficient bufferyards exist, and the campground extends right up to property lines with only trees or a fence separating from a Mountain Pines site. Not only is this an eyesore for neighbors of the campground, it also directly subjects residents to a huge influx of people, noise, pollution, etc.
As a campground, Mountain Pines should also limit outdoor activities between 9am-9pm. However, they offer entertainment like concerts and karaoke that has extended after 9pm. In fact, many of their events in the past have started just before or at 9pm. This is extremely frustrating to residential properties who live in the area to enjoy the peace and quiet of a rural mountain community. One neighbor to the campground has informed MWA that campers are known to play music on stereos all throughout the night and are never held accountable by camp management.
The list of community concerns regarding Mountain Pines’ operations goes on. Residents have complained that the additional campfire smoke in the valley contributes to air pollution, and residents have noted increased litter and garbage disposal issues when the campground is in season. Additionally, there are additional county ordinances which Mountain Pines may be violating, such as not providing adequate visitor parking. Allowing their expansion may only exacerbate these problems.
If you recognize their expansion as a serious issue, you can help prevent it. Since Mountain Pines needs a Special Exception to expand into the proposed area, their Special Exception hearing in front of the Fayette County Zoning and Hearing Board will be open to the public. Currently, this hearing is scheduled on Wednesday, May 11 at 2:30pm in Courtroom #5 of the Fayette County Courthouse. It is important that as many residents as possible attend and make their comments heard—the bigger the turnout, the more power the community will have. Legal representation on your side is not required, but if you are unable to attend the meeting, only a personal attorney will be able to speak on your behalf. Additionally, if you plan to legally challenge the expansion, you must make your comments at this hearing—having an attorney present will be beneficial in building the legal record.
The Mountain Pines campground has proven that they are not a friend to locals. They are owned by a New York based company, pollute our environment, and ignore our community’s input. We have the chance to oppose their expansion and need to ban together to do so. If you are interested in getting involved, have questions, or need more information, please contact our community advocate Stacey Magda at Stacey@mtwatershed.com or at 724-455-4200 extension #9.