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Bayfield could face $150,000 sewer fine
1/18/2008 By: Carole McWilliams
Bayfield sewer customers spent around $500,000 last year on interim improvements to the sewage treatment lagoons. They will spend around $6 million this year on a new state of the art treatment plant.
But at least one staffer in the State Department of Health and Environment thinks they should pay a $150,000 fine for sewer plant operating permit violations since 2005.
In a Jan. 15 memo to the town board, Town Manager Justin Clifton said, “I was told by Ginny Torrez that she is recommending a fine of approximately $150,000. This is not a formal settlement offer at this point, so this number could change drastically.”
He continued, “However, this amount is far above and beyond what I was expecting. It is incredibly ironic that at the same time they are talking about a $150,000 fine, they are also asking if we can add things to the plant construction to ensure better performance.”
The decision will be made by Dave Akers, director of the State Water Quality Control Commission, Clifton told trustees.
He commented, “It’s just an example of bad government. Their means and ends are contradictory to us. They want us to put more money into the plant, but they want to impose this fine.”
Plant violations occur because of lack of knowledge and resources, Clifton said. And if the state was going to issue a fine for past violations, they should have done it sooner.
But he said this sort of fine is common. The formula for figuring fines is mandated by the federal Environmental Protection Agency, he said.
“We can dispute the settlement offer. I don’t know what the final offer will be. We can suggest using the fine money to upgrade the plant,” he said, lamenting, “My head has been spinning.”
Trustee Carol Blatnick wanted to make sure this was publicized, “that it’s poor government.”
Clifton advised, “Right now it’s all speculative.”
Despite the expensive pre-treatment systems installed last year by several high load commercial customers and the schools, Clifton reported that organic loading coming into the plant averaged 1,712 pounds per day in December. The current permit limit is 600, although the town is trying to get that raised.
Public Works Director Ron Saba reported, “The schools (all together) average BOD (organic loading) removal is running at 70 percent reduction from before their pre-treatment installations. The RV park is at 67 percent, Tequila’s 67 percent; Mini Merc is estimated at 50 percent (no data from before tank installation). Steamworks no change, and the rest are presently under the 300 (milligrams per liter concentration) limit.”
In his memo, Clifton said, “This loading is very high, and we’re not sure where the loads came from. The good news is the effluent has remained very good. The effluent has not been nearly this low for such a long period of time since we took on operations in April 2006.
Last year the town and sanitation district had ongoing arguments with state officials who wanted the priority to be reduction of loading coming into the plant, while the town and district argued it’s the quality of effluent that really matters – and the item of interest to the Southern Ute Indian Tribe.
Clifton reported Tuesday that the sewer district dissolution isn’t final yet. The court order can’t happen until all district debt (funding for the new plant) is transferred to the town.
“Paperwork requesting the transfer of the Water and Power Authority loan has been submitted and should be processed soon,” he reported. “All other assets, including the including the bank account balance, have been transferred to the town.”