March 20, 2013

Portland agrees to pay EPA $53,000 for discharges

Since 2007, sewers have failed at least 22 times, contaminating waterways.

By Randy Billings
Staff Writer

PORTLAND — The city has agreed to pay more than $53,000 in fines for sewer overflows that contaminated waterways, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced Wednesday.

click image to enlarge

In this March 2012 file photo, a pipe near Preble Street Extension and Marginal Way that discharges a combination of untreated sewage and storm water run-off into the Back Cove after heavy rainfall. The city has agreed to pay more than $53,000 in fines for sewer overflows that contaminated waterways, the Environmental Protection Agency announced Wednesday.

As part of the settlement, the city also will implement a $45,000 project to prevent future erosion along a 1,000-foot stretch of Dole Brook.

Erosion is a form of stormwater pollution that threatens streams and coastal waters.

Since 2007, the city's sewer system has failed at least 22 times, sometimes discharging tens of thousands of gallons of sewage onto roadways and into nearby bodies of water.

The EPA found that the city did not do enough to prevent overflows from its sewer system, parts of which date to the 1800s and are made of clay or brick. Failures occur when lines collapse, pump stations fail or the system gets clogged.

Faced with fines totaling as much as $177,000, the city began negotiations with the EPA in November to come up with an "integrated approach" to upgrading its sewer system. The city has allocated $700,000 for a comprehensive study of the system.

EPA Regional Administrator Curt Spalding said in a written statement that sewer overflows are among the largest sources of water pollution in New England.

Overflows carry harmful bacteria, viruses and other pollutants that can cause serious health risks, the EPA said.

Spalding said, "The actions called for in this settlement should result in addressing that problem in Portland."

The EPA order requires the city to:

• Correct physical deficiencies in its sewer system.

• Better maintain the system.

• Better manage high flows that contribute to overflows.

• Stop future overflows as quickly as possible.

In a prepared statement, City Manager Mark Rees said, "While we are pleased to have the matter settled and the penalty amount reduced, the city still faces real challenges managing the many complicated aspects of the Clean Water Act.

"Old coastal cities like Portland face significant financial hardships. Separating our sewer and stormwater system is expensive and has been largely born by the rate payer with little to no support from other agencies."

Rees said the city hopes to work with the EPA to develop a long-range plan to address the issue in a manageable way.

Randy Billings can be contacted at 791-6346 or at:

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