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Robert W. Varney, Regional Administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency's New England Office; United States Attorney Michael Sullivan; Thomas Reilly, Massachusetts Attorney General; and Lauren A. Liss, Commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, have signed an agreement with the Town of Winchendon, Mass., which settles alleged violations of federal and state clean water laws and government-issued permits. A civil complaint and consent decree were filed today in U.S. District Court in Boston.
Under the consent decree, Winchendon will pay a $45,000 fine and invest in a $15 million sewage treatment upgrade to resolve allegations that the town's sewage system allowed raw sewage to flow into the Millers River during rainstorms and failed to meet discharge standards in the operation of the town's publicly-owned treatment system.
"The best thing about this settlement is that the river will be cleaner," Varney. "Winchendon residents deserve clean waterways, and they're going to see the payoff from the investment in better treatment."
The civil complaint alleges that the Winchendon's sewer system is overloaded during heavy rainfalls or periods of high groundwater, when excess water enters the sewer system. A major cause of the overloading is homeowners' sump pumps and roof drains connected to the sewer system. This overload causes the system to discharge raw sewage into the Millers River, in violation of federal and state laws. Additionally, the town's sewage treatment plant discharges have regularly exceeded its federal and state permit limits for pollutant levels.
"Winchendon's agreement to undertake remedial measures is a victory for public health," Sullivan commented. "This decree should serve as notice to all Massachusetts towns that they must meet federal and state requirements for sewage collection and treatment or face the possibility of federal enforcement action. The elimination of sewage overflows will be of benefit to the environment and to the people of Winchendon and beyond."
The sewage discharges create a public health risk because of potential disease-causing bacteria in the sewage as well as odor problems. Together with excess pollution from the treatment plant, the sewage discharges affect the overall health of the Millers River, harming aquatic life and potentially making the river unsuitable for recreation.
"Winchendon's new commitment to correct the serious, longstanding problems with its sewage collection and treatment system should be an example to other communities in violation of state and federal Clean Water Act requirements," Reilly said. "Cities and towns owe it to their citizens to eliminate illegal sewer hookups and upgrade their treatment systems. The settlement provides Winchendon residents with enhanced protections to public health and safety and a cleaner environment."
Under the settlement announced today, Winchendon will pay a total penalty of $45,000, ($30,000 to the federal government and $15,000 to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts). Winchendon also has committed to upgrading its sewage system and treatment plant to bring it into compliance with federal and state laws by eliminating the sewage overflows, and to improving the treatment plant to meet permit limits. The estimated cost of the upgrades is approximately $15 million.
"Massachusetts rivers are among our most precious natural resources and we must take the steps necessary to protect them," said Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection Deputy Commissioner Edward Kunce. "Thanks to the joint enforcement efforts of EPA, the Attorney General's Office and our agency, the long-overdue improvements to the treatment plant and the sewer system are now moving forward."
Notice of the Consent Decree will be published in the Federal Register, and interested persons will be given the opportunity to comment on the decree prior to its being entered by the district court.
The case was handled by Assistant U.S. Attorney Barbara Healy Smith in Sullivan's Civil Division, Tonia Bandrowicz, EPA Enforcement Counsel, Assistant Attorney General Carol Iancu in Massachusetts Attorney General Reilly's Environmental Protection Division and Senior Regional Counsel Irfan Nasrullah of the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection.