City Dodges Federal Fine, Agrees to Merrimack River Improvements

New conditions are to be set on the city of Haverhilll’s efforts to meet a federal mandate to address combined storm water and sewage entering the wastewater treatment plant in Bradford. The city will also make improvements to the riverbank at Riverside Park to avoid a fine.

Under a negotiated consent decree, subject to Department of Justice supervision, the city was ordered by the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to produce new, long term plans to maintain and control its wastewater collection system, according to the city’s environmental Attorney Michael Leon.

“When the city did so five years ago EPA rejected that control plan as not being sufficient to minimize these flows to the greatest degree possible. And that resulted in their decision to proceed with negotiating a judicially enforceable consent decree under the Clean Water Act,” Leon said.

Leon told city councilors Tuesday among the new EPA conditions, also placed on other municipal wastewater systems along the Merrimack River, the city must monitor its compliance of an operations permit issued every five years by the EPA and “locate and eliminate any illegal connections” stemming from development. He added the negotiated consent decree does take into account “a degree of understanding and respect for the specific conditions the city is facing.”

“And although we have spent money over the years in improving the treatment plant, I think everyone is aware of the fact that there still remain problems with our treatment plant – some which relate to odor, other which relate to our sludge management system. As I indicated, over the last two years we negotiated the terms and details of that consent decree, I think, in a fair and equitable manner. And we have significantly modified our stormwater management obligations,” Leon said. “We are and have completed our inspection… of dry weather discharges into our stormwater collection systems – both into the Merrimack and into Little River – and identified where we may need to do further investigation to find illegal connections,” he added.

Mayor James J. Fiorentini added, as a reduction of an initially proposed $450,000 civil fine, a mitigation agreement will call for riverbank restoration and other improvements at the city’s Riverside Park.

“We have to do the riverbank as a result of this but we’re going to put in much more money into the riverbank restoration than is required by this mitigation,” Fiorentini said. “We’re putting in for a couple of grants – we didn’t get the first one but we have two more to go – to improve Riverside Park so it has that benefit. Ultimately, I’d like Riverside Park to be the premier park anywhere in this area and this will help.”

The decree, pending approvals from federal agencies, will cost the city a total $300,000 out of pocket, including a reduced $125,000 cash penalty and $176,000 toward the riverbank mitigation, according to Leon. The new control plan must be submitted to the EPA for “review and approval” by Jan. 31, 2017.

Meanwhile, councilors placed on file for two weeks a separate $2.2 million loan order request by Fiorentini for “funding design and construction of the first of two phases of odor control improvements” at the wastewater plant. Fiorentini will return before the council then for more discussion.

2 thoughts on “City Dodges Federal Fine, Agrees to Merrimack River Improvements

  1. Finding illegal sewer connections to storm water drains is easy. When there is heavy snows and plowed berms over storm water sewers the ones that melt open are the ones that are illegally connected somewhere nearby. Those melted open are open due to the heat generated from disposing warm water from homes. Drive around and you will see steam coming from them on a really cold day.