2011-08-18 / News

Court forces Newport to improve sewer system

Under the terms of a settlement filed recently in federal court, the city of Newport has agreed to eliminate illegal discharges of sewage into Narragansett Bay from its wastewater treatment plant and wastewater collection system. The city has also agreed to take actions to reduce the pollutants associated with storm sewer discharges to Easton’s Beach, purchase and distribute rain barrels to residents in order to capture storm water for reuse, and take other actions to encourage low impact development.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that Newport will spend about $25 million to address these issues. The city will also pay a $170,000 penalty to be split between the federal and state governments.

The settlement is the result of a federal and state enforcement action brought by the U.S. Department of Justice, the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management and the National Environmental Law Center. The consent decree alleged that Newport violated the federal Clean Water Act, including illegal discharges of sewage and storm water containing bacteria and other pollutants that pose threats to human health and the environment.

Under this consent decree, Newport is required to develop a comprehensive system-wide plan to address discharge violations at its wastewater treatment plant and eliminate overflows from its wet weather sewage treatment facilities at Wellington Avenue and Washington Street and from other points in its collection system. Planned actions include identifying and removing extraneous sources of water from its collection system by eliminating storm water connections and repairing or replacing leaky pipes. The city will also take measures to reduce the levels of bacteria in discharges from its storm sewer system to Easton’s Beach.

“Today’s agreement will help eliminate harmful overflows of sewage and storm water by requiring comprehensive improvements to Newport’s aging sewer system, [which are] improvements that are required in order to bring the city into compliance with the Clean Water Act,” said Ignacia S. Moreno, assistant attorney general of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “Today, Newport joins a growing list of cities across the country that have met the challenge of upgrading their systems, and in doing so are improving public health and the environment for their residents.”

While negotiating this agreement, the city has been taking corrective action and working cooperatively with all federal, state and environmental parties involved.

“EPA expects all municipalities to pay attention to critical elements of their wastewater infrastructure,” said Curt Spalding, regional administrator of EPA’s New England office. “Maintaining these municipal assets reduces the risk of service disruptions, the environmental and economic impacts associated with untreated sewage discharges and avoids the potentially higher costs to repair or replace them when they fail. This settlement will ultimately result in significant improvements to water quality and create a cleaner and healthier environment for the Newport community.”

“Newport’s waters are treasured by all Rhode Islanders. They are vital to our ecology, economy and quality of life,” said John Rumpler, senior attorney for Environment Rhode Island. “The city’s decision to take responsibility for ending its pollution will be appreciated for generations to come.”

The consent decree, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Rhode Island, is subject to a 30-day public comment period and approval by the federal court. Once it is published in the Federal Register, a copy of the consent decree will be available on the Justice Department’s website.

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