United States of America and State of Connecticut v. City of West Haven: The city of West Haven must repair as much as 145 miles of sewer lines over the next five years as part of a settlement between the municipality and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and other state agencies.
According to officials from the EPA, West Haven will spend approximately $17.1 million to get the city back into compliance with regulations.
As part of the settlement that was finalized recently, the city must reduce illegal raw sewage overflows from its wastewater collection system, which previously has ended up in area waterways, including New Haven Harbor and the Long Island Sound, in violation of the federal Clean Water Act.
West Haven will also pay a fine of $125,000 as part of the settlement agreement. The fine will be split equally between the United States and Connecticut.
Because Connecticut law allows for such penalties to be used to fund environmental projects, the state’s half of the penalty—$62,500—will be paid into a fund to be used to pay for environmentally beneficial projects.
“We are pleased that our precious resources on Long Island Sound will be improved by West Haven’s efforts to reduce sewage discharges,” said Connecticut’s Deputy Attorney General Perry Zinn Rowthorn in a statement. “The settlement serves as a reminder of the importance of proper maintenance and operation of all municipal sewage treatment plans. The Long Island Sound ecosystem is a unique and irreplaceable environmental resource, critical to our economy. It must be protected.”
Deirdre Daly, acting U.S. attorney in Connecticut, said the sewage work will be especially beneficial in the inner-city areas of West Haven.
“The agreed upon remediation measures will in particular benefit minority and low-income neighborhoods where many of the sewage overflows occurred,” said Daly. “West Haven’s corrective steps should help to prevent future overflows in these residential areas and make recreation in local waterways safer for residents.”
West Haven owns and operates a wastewater collection and treatment system that serves about 52,630 people in West Haven and parts of neighboring Orange.
West Haven is required to report any bypass of the city’s collection system to the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. It is routine practice for the DEEP to share these reports with the EPA on request. Numerous bypass reports led the EPA to initiate a civil enforcement action against the city in this case in order to impose a penalty and seek remedial measures designed to prevent further violations.
Besides reducing sewage overflows, settlement terms call for the city to implement an “operations and maintenance” program and a long-term preventative maintenance program to ensure the city’s sanitary collection system remains properly functioning. The city must also implement a program to reduce the amount of fats, oils and grease that get into the collection system from restaurants. The introduction of these waste products into the sanitary collection system often accumulate, causing blockages that result in illegal discharges of sewage into streets, surface waters, and even basements of homes and businesses.
Finally, the settlement requires the city to conduct investigations and assessments necessary to determine how best to reduce extraneous flow from entering the sanitary collection system.
According to an EPA press release, the untreated sewage from these overflows can contaminate local waters, causing serious water quality problems. Raw sewage discharges can carry bacteria, viruses, and other organisms that can cause life-threatening ailments such as cholera, dysentery, infections, hepatitis and severe gastroenteritis.
Between 2007 and 2011, officials claim that there were more than 300 discharges of sewage from West Haven’s collection system.
The settlement agreement was reached with the involvement of the following agencies: the EPA; the U.S. Department of Justice, including the Connecticut U.S. Attorney’s Office; the state DEEP; the state Attorney General’s Office; and West Haven.•