Rockland negotiating with DEP over $51,000 fine for sewage treatment violations

Posted April 07, 2014, at 11:41 a.m.

ROCKLAND, Maine — Rockland officials are negotiating with the Maine Department of Environmental Protection over how much of a fine the city must pay and what level of improvements must be made to address the city’s failure to meet clean water standards in its sewage treatment system.

The city’s attorney said the city is making headway on addressing the concerns, an issue he stressed was not limited to Rockland.

The DEP, in its latest letter to Rockland dated March 14, is proposing a fine of more than $51,000.

City Attorney Kevin Beal said Rockland officials have since met with DEP representatives and requested that the fine be reduced and that the scope of work be limited.

Rockland, like many other communities along the ocean or a river, has a sewer system that can be overwhelmed by heavy rains, said Beal. In normal conditions, the mix of sewage and stormwater is treated both through what is known as primary treatment by spinning the material through a vortex that removes most solids, and secondary treatment through chemicals.

When heavy rain falls, however, some of the mixture of sewage and stormwater only goes through primary treatment before being discharged into Rockland Harbor, Beal said.

“Rockland committed numerous violations and it is the department’s responsibility to hold Rockland accountable for these violations,” the March 14 letter from John Glowa Sr. of the DEP states.

State environmental officials want to resolve the matter through an administrative consent agreement but if that cannot be agreed upon, further legal action would be taken, according to Glowa.

The DEP began investigating the city more than a year ago.

At that time, Rockland Pollution Control Director Terry Pinto pointed out to the state that the city had spent more than $17 million on its wastewater system since, and including, a 1998 major upgrade at the plant.

The DEP has proposed a fine of $51,748 for violations that occurred from Jan. 1 2008, through June 30, 2013.

The city has requested that the fine be reduced to $6,818, but Glowa stated in his March letter that this amount was inadequate, given the number and severity of violations. He said he would be submitting a revised consent agreement to Rockland in a few weeks. No proposal had been received as of Monday.

The DEP official also stated that there have been additional violations since June 30 and that those problems will be addressed in any proposed revised agreement.

One requirement the state is calling for is for the city to inspect all sewer lines with its closed-circuit television over the next five years. The city purchased a $140,000 camera last year, which it attaches to a 2-foot-long tractor that is put into sewer lines and is monitored from screens inside a trailer staffed by a city crew. The goal is to detect leaks of groundwater into sewer lines.

The city will eventually need to repair or replace those lines to reduce stormwater being directed to the treatment plant.

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