Public May Submit Comments on City’s River EPA Fine

carmen ortiz

Carmen M. Ortiz, United States Attorney for the District of Massachusetts.

A consent decree, first reported last January by WHAV, on the city’s efforts to meet federally mandated upgrades to combined storm water and sewage treatment capacity and other Merrimack River protections, is subject to a 30-day public comment period and approval.

U.S. Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz, along with Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, released a statement Friday the city of Haverhill has formally agreed to pay a $125,000 civil penalty as “the result of an enforcement action brought by the U.S. Department of Justice, on behalf of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)” and Healey’s office, representing Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection.” Complaints, filed simultaneously with the consent decree between the city and EPA, allege that Haverhill, as early as 2008, “discharged pollutants into its storm water drainage system in violation of its permits and failed to properly operate and maintain its sewer system and treatment plant.” The alleged violations came on “190 occasions during dry and wet weather.”  The city, according to Ortiz, “continues to discharge untreated storm water containing sewage and other pollutants from its storm water and its combined sewer systems into these waters.” Pending approval by the federal court, the consent decree will be published in the Federal Register.

“By entering into this consent decree, Haverhill will take the steps necessary to prevent pollutants from entering the Merrimack River and its tributaries,” Ortiz said. “Haverhill is required to eliminate the flow of pollutants which will result in cleaner discharges and a healthier environmental for all.”

To make a comment, watch for the listing to appear at The public may also email [email protected] for more information.

As WHAV reported, subject to Department of Justice supervision, the consent decree ordered the city to produce new, long term plans to maintain and control its wastewater collection system, according to the city’s environmental Attorney Michael Leon. Five years ago EPA rejected a control plan as not being sufficient to” minimize these flows to the greatest degree possible.” The decree would cost the city a total $300,000 out of pocket, including the $125,000 cash penalty and $176,000 toward the riverbank mitigation, he said. At the time 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 are pleased that, through this settlement, steps will be taken to better protect to the Merrimack and Little Rivers,” Healey said Friday. “We will continue to work together at all levels of government to protect our natural resources and our residents.”

Last March the Haverhill City Council approved, by an 8 to 1 vote, a supplemental $2 million loan order to complete design and construction of phase two in Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) upgrades to the wastewater treatment plant in Bradford. It brings the city’s price tag for phase two to $14.1 million since 2014. Councilor Joseph J. Bevilacqua was the lone dissenting vote. He said without financial help from the federal government, residents facing incremental increases in water and sewer bills, as well as property taxes, could find the city unaffordable. In January, 2015, the city qualified to receive two percent loans toward the upgrades through the State’s Revolving Fund.

Last January, Leon told city councilors 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.”

“This settlement ensures that Haverhill will continue the important work to eliminate unauthorized discharges of pollutants to the Merrimack River,” EPA Regional Administrator Curt Spalding said Friday. “This is a necessary step toward opening this valuable resource to more recreational use by people who live in the area.”

The new control plan must be submitted to the EPA for “review and approval” by the end of next January.

2 thoughts on “Public May Submit Comments on City’s River EPA Fine

  1. So, basically, the Mayor cost us almost a $1miilion due to his wait and see attitude ? The plan was flawed and they waited for years to do another one ? Maybe that’s why he charged the Hunking school project $300k in permit fees to make up for this fine. What else is he up to I wonder ?