City fined $10K for sewage treatment violations

Published 10:45 am Monday, April 3, 2017

The City of Franklin will have to pay $10,431 in settlement to the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality for violations of its wastewater treatment plant’s DEQ permit to discharge treated wastewater into the Blackwater River. According to City Manager R. Randy Martin, the violations for which the city was cited occurred in September 2014 during a walk-through by DEQ inspectors, all of which he said have since been corrected. Nevertheless, the city will still have to pay the fine by early May and has agreed to do so per an agreement with the DEQ known officially as an order by consent. The city has also agreed to a schedule of compliance specified in the order, which requires the city to submit a corrective action plan and a schedule for the implementation of proposed corrective actions to the DEQ for review and approval by Dec. 31 of this year.

The specific areas of noncompliance the DEQ cited in its order were that, at the time of their inspectors’ walk-through, the city did not have flow monitoring information available for review; the control panel for the ultraviolet system was not operational; the intensity meters for the UV system were not working properly; and a review of the city’s records indicated that the city had not reported or qualified its E. coli discharge monitoring results that exceeded the upper qualification limit for the analytical method.

“What happened was we had a failure in part of the UV equipment that happened to be non-operational when [the inspectors] were there,” Martin said. “We [also] had a failure in one of our monitoring systems that keeps records.”

He added that the city had accurately filed its monthly reports to the department proving that they were in compliance with all regulations and that the city was not cited for any untreated wastewater having been released. But the DEQ inspectors wanted to see the daily data to prove the city had stayed in compliance between filing reports.

“The City of Franklin takes very seriously its obligation to be a good steward of the environment,” Martin said. “To this end, the city is committed to environmental responsibility in every aspect of its utility facility operations in compliance with applicable regulations.”

When he was first informed of the violations, he asked a DEQ representative why the department had waited nearly three years to bring their inspectors’ findings to the city’s attention, to which the representative responded that the delay was due to the department being understaffed.

The corrective action plan the city plans to send to the DEQ mandates that the city create a plan to achieve and maintain consistent compliance with permit effluent limits, and take measures to report E. coli discharge correctly, both of which Martin said the city has already implemented. The third corrective action the plan requires is for the city to take action to address infiltration, inflow and solids losses during high-flow periods, which Martin says pertains to the strain placed upon the capacity of the city’s aging plant during incidents such as hurricanes.

“That is directly related to what we looked at in the [shared utility services] study [with Southampton County],” he said. “The city has been spending millions to address issues of extraneous water, which is groundwater or rain events, which in turn goes in with the wastewater and puts added pressure on the plant because the plant has to treat a lot more quantity than it would when flooding is not occurring… it’s a 2-million gallon-per-day plant and if you exceed it, it stresses the plant to treat all of that effectively.”

Martin added that the initial report of the violations he received from the DEQ had several other citations listed and a heftier fine but that the city was able to successfully contest everything except the four that remain.

“We could not challenge these items as being not accurate even though they have been addressed,” he said. “We had the right to challenge this and go through a process almost like a court proceeding. We didn’t get to that because we are accepting ownership of these … had they not conceded the items we challenged, we likely would have gone through the appeal process.”

The city has sufficient funds, according to Martin, to pay the fine without requiring an appropriation from the city council.