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The Cape Fear Public Utility Authority’s 2012 Capacity, Management, Operations and Maintenance Program includes the continued rehabilitation of the Northeast Interceptor along Greenville Loop Drive.
Cape Fear Public Utility Authority Board members voted 8-3 in favor of a motion to renegotiate a consent decree and pay a $300,000 civil penalty to the United States Environmental Protection Agency.
The city of Wilmington, New Hanover County and the state of North Carolina will all be listed as defendants on the documents following future votes by the local municipalities.
Linda Miles, CFPUA consulting attorney, said the authority was given the option to pay a $300,000 civil penalty or split the amount and put some money toward programs.
The original consent decree included a civil penalty of $180,000 and a $240,000 grant to upgrade sewer laterals and septic systems in lower income households.
The CFPUA board’s motion was made during the May 8 board meeting, following discussion by Wilmington City Council.
Charlie Rivenbark, city councilman and CFPUA board member, said the city would rather pay the fine and be done with it.
Miles said the EPA could have charged the authority up to $1.5 million in civil penalties, but charged a lesser amount due to ongoing program efforts. If the authority does not comply with the consent decree — a negotiated settlement of a court-approved lawsuit —there could be additional civil penalties incurred by the authority.
The document includes a pre-submitted, tentatively EPA approved 2012 Capacity, Management, Operations and Maintenance Program (CMOM).
“Consent decrees are not rare,” said Mike McGill, CFPUA chief communications officer, during a media briefing on Tuesday, May 7. “… Several have been issued in recent years.”
The majority of work outlined in the CMOM includes projects located in the Northeast Interceptor. The goal is to continue to reduce the amount of sanitary sewer overflows (SSO).
“We suggested those projects,” said Frank Styres, CFPUA engineering director. “… The two projects that we’re continuing with are the connection between the Bradley Creek pump station and the Northside Treatment Plant, and the continued rehabilitation of the segment of the Northeast Interceptor along Greenville Loop Drive.”
One of the largest reported SSOs in August 2004 was located at Hewletts Creek (pump station 34) on Pine Grove Drive with 187,500 gallons spilled and 5,625 gallons reaching surface waters.
The CFPUA oversees a total of 141 pump stations with 21 staff members.
“The Northeast Interceptor functions as a system; it starts at Wrightsville Beach and it ends at Southside Wastewater Plant,” Styres said. “And both of those pump stations, along with the force main and gravity sections that interconnect it all, function as a system. So we’re trying to get that system to be more robust.”
CFPUA staff explained the process as a working one for the past five years, dating back to when the CFPUA was established in July 2008. When the authority was established it took over the city’s and county’s sewer and water assets.
The city retained about $1.9 million in water and sewer monies, which chief executive officer Matt Jordan said, once received, would be used to fund the civil penalties, since it has not yet been recorded as revenue. About $1 million from the county-retained water and sewer funds has already been recorded as revenue.
The agreement will last until the authority has complied with everything listed in the CMOM, which could be as little as two years, Miles said.
Since the CFPUA was established, the number of reportable SSOs has decreased from 166 SSOs during the period of Jan. 16, 2003 to June 18, 2008 to 110 SSOs during the period of July 5, 2008 to March 10, 2013. The volume of spills has decreased by about 80 percent.
The risk cannot be eliminated, but it can be managed, Jordan said.
“They’re asking us to agree to do what we’re already committed to do,” he said.
William Bush, U.S. EPA Region 4, did not immediately respond for comment.