Montgomery County

Amsterdam faces $55,000 penalty over sewer system violations

The state Department of Environmental Conservation has hit Amsterdam with a $55,000 civil penalty fo
East Main Street in Amsterdam on August 1, 2014.
East Main Street in Amsterdam on August 1, 2014.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation has hit Amsterdam with a $55,000 civil penalty for a series of environmental violations related to the Clean Water Act and the city’s sewer system.

The violations are for two unpermitted discharges in February and May of this year, failing to maintain sewer equipment and take reasonable steps to minimize or prevent a discharge, and failing to submit timely reports on the sewer system to DEC last summer.

City Engineer Richard Miller said Amsterdam is in the process of negotiating with DEC to reduce the penalty, but will likely have to pay a portion of the fine. Neither Miller nor Amsterdam Mayor Michael Villa would expand on just how much the city might be liable for.

“There will be a fine but it won’t be substantial,” said Villa.

Amsterdam received a letter from DEC on June 22 accusing the city of five violations pertaining to an order of consent the city signed with the agency last year.

According to that order, the DEC stated, the city agreed to submit a compliance monitoring plan to the agency by July 31, 2015, but did not do so until September.

DEC said the city also failed to submit an asset management plan to the agency by July 27 of last year, which Miller said is essentially a detailed inventory of the city’s wastewater treatment infrastructure.

“Some of the reports they required, they really didn’t give us enough time to do them,” said Miller about asset management plan. He said the city was given 90 days to complete it.

DEC spokesman Rick Georgeson said the agency doesn’t comment on ongoing enforcement actions.

Amsterdam’s third violation outlined in the June 22 letter was exceeding state effluent discharge limits 16 times since last February. The fourth violation was for unpermitted discharges in February and May of this year, discharges the agency said were preventable if the city had properly maintained its equipment, a charge that formed the fifth violation.

Miller outlined objections to the DEC’s five violations against Amsterdam in a July 12 letter. In it he said the two reports were delayed because the city could not authorize consultant McDonald Engineering to begin work on them until days after their respective deadlines due to “budget issues.”

Miller said the effluent discharge violations are hard to avoid during heavy storms. “The city works very hard to follow the Wet Weather Operating Plan to keep the plant’s performance within permit limits and there would have undoubtedly been more violations if this was not the case,” he said in his July 12 letter.

He goes on to cite a $5 million sewer system overhaul the city is set to embark on next year that will put in place an additional sanitary sewer main that will help with the system’s effluent problem.

Miller said the city disagrees with DEC that the February and May discharges were preventable. The overflow at the Westside Pump Station, which he said actually occurred in January and not February, happened because of an automatic valve becoming partially clogged.

“There’s no way to predict when a valve or pump will clog due to the constantly changing make up of wastewater,” Miller said in his letter. He also noted that the city was able to rectify the problem within a half-hour.

Miller said the pump failures in May at the Eastside Pump Station were due to a brown-out on May 8, which disrupted the system’s alarm protocol, and a downpour that brought 1.5 inches of rainfall on May 30.

Miller said the city is waiting to hear from DEC on their response to his July 12 letter.

Miller told The Daily Gazette that most of city’s sewer woes can be traced to an improperly installed pump valve in the city’s Westside Pump Station. Villa said last week that the City Council approved a $160,000 resolution to fix the valve.

In order to make the repairs, however, the city will have to shut down the pump station for two days, causing approximately 7 million gallons of sewage to flow into the Mohawk River, according to Miller. That sewage, he said, will be disinfected.

He added that the two-day discharge is what’s called an “anticipated non-compliance event” and that the city is looking to get the DEC to waive any penalties associated with the spill because it’s necessary to fix a larger problem.

“There’s no way to fix it without having a spill,” said Miller.

He said the city is also waiting to hear back from DEC on the purposeful spill before beginning the work.

It’s unknown if Amsterdam will face an additional penalty for discharging 500,000 gallons of partially treated sewage from the Westside Pump Station into the Mohawk River on July 13.

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